When we focus on educating our patients about their dental health we may be missing a critical area: gut health. We spend a lot of time talking about brushing, flossing, fluoride and diet. These, of course are all critical for healthy teeth and gums.
However, it turns out that the gut is closely related to our mouths and our teeth. This is perhaps unsurprising, as they are all related to the digestive system. So how exactly are gut health and dental health connected, and what should our patients be doing about their gut in order to achieve better dental health?
What is Gut Health?
Gut health is an area that has received an increased amount of attention of late – but what do we mean exactly by this term? When we refer to the “gut”, generally this means the gastrointestinal system in general, including the oesophagus, stomach and the intestines, essentially the entire pathway that food takes as it journeys from the mouth until it is expelled by our bodies.
This system is not only critical to our physical health as it is pivotal in receiving the nutrients we need in order to function, but it is also delicate and finely balanced. The entire gastrointestinal tract contains trillions of bacteria which play a crucial role in digesting food and maintaining essential bodily processes. This is sometimes referred to the “gut biome” or “microbiome” and the number and make up of these bacteria can make the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy gut.
More research is required to determine what exactly constitutes a healthy gut microbiome, however evidence suggests that a large number and diverse range of healthy bacteria are important for gut health. Modern lifestyles, poor diet and the use of antibiotics and all contribute to lessening the numbers and diversity of these “good” bacteria in the gut.
How are Gut Health and Dental Health Linked?
Problems with the gastrointestinal system can have incredibly wide ranging impacts, including damaging the immune system, increasing stress, impacting on dental health, and contributing to chronic diseases including cancer and type 2 diabetes. As dentists, it is important to know how problems in the digestive system can led to dental health issues. Additionally, problems in the mouth may be indications of gut health problems, so it is important to be able to recognise this as well.
Essentially, the mouth is the first part of the gastrointestinal system and therefore is part of the overall gut biome. The microbes, enzymes and nutrients which end up in the latter stages of the system all pass through the mouth first. Equally, microbes found in the gut interact with those in the mouth, with impacts on dental health. Digestive problems can manifest in a range of issues in the mouth including a red or swollen tongue, flat red patches on the gums or inside the cheeks, oral candida, mouth ulcers and white pus-filled lesions in the mouth.
There are also less direct impacts, especially when it comes to the immune system. The gastrointestinal system is closely linked to immunity, and the lymph tissue in the gut is actually the largest immune organ in the body, monitoring and killing harmful bacteria. Therefore problems with gut health can damage the immune system, which in turn promotes bacteria and infections in the mouth, and attacks dental health.
How do Your Patients Know if They Have Gut Health Problems?
Along with the symptoms in the mouth that we have already mentioned, common indications of gut health issues include bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, heartburn and unexplained weight changes. If your patients display signs or symptoms of issues with their digestive health, they should seek medical advice for diagnosis and treatment.
Sites like verisana.com offer gut health testing services, which test for a range of conditions and can be performed at home and then sent to the lab for results. This can be a good option for patients who are reluctant to go to see a doctor for a test, as this is an easy, non-invasive testing option that they can do in the comfort of their own home.
How Do You Address Gut Health Problems?
Depending on the cause of the gastrointestinal issues, lifestyle and dietary changes may be sufficient to bring digestive problems under control and restore a healthy gut. The most important step is to review the patient’s diet to make sure they are eating a healthy, balanced diet which promotes good gut health. Large amounts of processed, high-sugar and high-fat foods can all contribute to poor gastrointestinal health. Switching to a diet which is high in fiber, fruits and vegetables and lean proteins will go a long way to promote better gut health.
Other lifestyle changes can also contribute to better gut health. Stress can contribute to gut health problems, so lowering stress through relaxation, meditation, yoga or removing the cause of stress is important. Getting enough sleep is also important, as lack of quality, uninterrupted sleep can also add to gut woes. Drinking enough water is essential for good gastrointestinal health, and taking probiotic supplements can also help to balance the good bacteria in the gut.
Digestive health problems can also be linked to chronic health conditions, including the auto-immune diseases Celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn’s disease. If any of these conditions are diagnosed, medical advice should be sought from a GP or specialist to prescribe appropriate treatment.