The lifestyle approach to oral health and wellbeing

eating foods that impact our oral microbiomeThe mouth is a window to the whole body. With people’s increased appetite for protecting their own health, we have a unique opportunity to educate in oral disease prevention and its greater impact on overall health. Maria Papavergos explores how we can influence positive change in our patients.

The oral microbiome has several established links to systemic health. From gut health to cardiovascular disease. This article invites you to shift the focus from fixing a state of oral dysbiosis and disease to empowering people with the knowledge to take a more preventative approach.

Stress management 

Imbalances in the oral microbiome arise not only from poor oral hygiene, but from diet and nutrition, as well as our daily lifestyle too.

We want to inspire people to support their oral microbiome. This will not only benefit oral health, but positively impact their overall health and wellbeing.

Stress can affect mouth health with physical symptoms such as teeth grinding. But it can also disrupt the oral microbiome. Saliva flow can decrease, affecting digestion, and compiled with reduced attention to oral hygiene, the risk of caries and periodontal disease can increase. There is also a negative impact on the immune system in a broader sense, increasing susceptibility to developing oral and systemic infections.

We, as dental professionals, have an insight into recognising stress levels in people from an oral perspective. We have an opportunity to raise the conversation of mental health. Therefore, we have the potential to be the trigger to a much bigger lifestyle change. Impacting not only oral health, but gut health, mental health and overall health too. Surely this is an opportunity not to miss?

Empowering people to make lifestyle choices that address stress management are also linked to an overall healthy lifestyle. Embracing an active lifestyle incorporating regular stress-reducing habits, such as yoga or meditation practice, will have a positive impact on oral health and overall wellbeing. Equally, a lifestyle that allows plenty of sleep and ensures good hydration will benefit our oral microbiomes and more.

The impact of sugar on our microbiome

Alongside good oral hygiene practices, diet and nutrition have a key role in achieving oral symbiosis. We must remember that the food we eat is not only nourishing us, but our oral microbes too.

In order to nurture the oral microbiome, we should encourage a nutrient-rich diet, with a large variety of fresh fruit and vegetables and low in refined carbohydrates. This will not only help protect mouths from dental disease, but favour gut health and gut microbiota diversity too. Which brings me onto sugar.

We know frequent sugar intake over time will drive disharmony between us and our oral microbes. But this dietary pattern also reduces gut microbiota diversity and negatively impacts gut health. It can have damaging effects on cardiovascular health, as well as a fluctuating effect on our mood and energy levels, impacting mental health.

With this in mind, it is important to ask: ‘Are patients able to recognise “free” extrinsic sugars and do they know where to look?’ Do patients fully understand the impact of certain dietary choices, eg veganism?

We have a key role in education; asking the right questions and giving the right advice. We need to be mindful of hidden ‘free’ sugars, such as fruit smoothies and tomato ketchup. Have an ability to identify where ‘added sugars’ are and exert moderation on natural sugars, like honey and maple syrup.

The oral microbiome is the gateway to the whole body. It’s time we embrace an approach that recognises it.

You can follow Maria Papavergos on Instagram at @thelifestyledentist.

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