It is a generally accepted idea that diet and nutrition can impact one’s risk for chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. It is less well known that much evidence points to strong a relationship between diet, nutrition, and oral health. Oral diseases can impact an individual’s ability to eat/chew which then impacts nutrition status. Signs and symptoms of these not only affect the body, but also the mouth, teeth and gums. Dentists are in a unique position to identify an individual’s disease risk and nutrient deficiencies by observing the mouth, teeth and gums. Collaboration between dentists and dieticians is an ideal strategy to helping individuals achieve both good oral health and general wellbeing.
Sugar and Dental Caries
Dental caries (cavities) and tooth decay are conditions of the mouth that cause damage to the teeth, gums, and oral tissue. Cavities are the result of consuming too many sugary drinks, gummy or sticky candies, and sugary snacks like cookies and cakes. Tooth decay and cavities are the most common childhood disease. Over a quarter of preschoolers have some tooth decay. Dentists and dieticians can work with parents in helping their clients choose healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, high-quality protein foods and low-sugar snacks and cereals can decrease the risk for developing cavities disease (and of course good oral hygiene).
Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, and Periodontal Disease
Periodontal disease has been associated with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, stress, and cardiovascular disease (high blood pressure, stroke, etc). It is thought the inflammatory response from these conditions also impact the surrounding tissues in the mouth which cause weakening of the periodontal ligaments and bone strength. The DASH Diet which focuses on consuming fruits and vegetables, nuts, low-fat and non-fat dairy, lean meats, fish, and poultry, whole grains, and “healthy” fats has been proven to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and is associated with lowering risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain types of cancers.
The relationship between good nutrition and diet and oropharyngeal cancer have been noted. These cancers are more common among men than women. Studies show increased consumption of fruits and vegetables (which contain important nutrients like vitamin C, folate, and carotenoids) may lower the risk of developing this form of cancer. Once diagnosed however, therapy to treat the cancer can interfere with an individual’s appetite and nutrient intake, which ultimately compromises nutritional status and health. Dentists, along with dieticians and other health care professionals can work together to improve quality of life for these individuals.
Sleep Apnea, Cardiovascular Disease and Weight Loss
Sleep apnea causes lapses in breathing during sleep. As a result, the levels of carbon dioxide in the body increase. Over time, this can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. It also increases stress and pain on the jaw, mouth, neck and shoulders. While CPAP machines are effective for treating sleep apnea, weight loss, even 10%, is the first and best treatment because it reduces the fat that blocks the windpipe. While the DASH diet was originally developed for lowering blood pressure, it has been found to help individuals lose weight.
Routine Dental Visits and their Role in Total Wellbeing
Dentists play a vital role in watching out for signs and symptoms of potential health problems. By identifying dental symptoms caused by poor diet, cancer, or sleep apnea, dentists can work with dieticians to help improve their patients’ oral health and reduce risk for developing chronic diseases.
Jessy Barron, MS, RD, LD is a trusted food and nutrition expert in Cleveland, Ohio. She has over 5 years of experience working with a variety of clients including seniors, elementary school kids, women who are pregnant, and men to improve health outcomes in weight management, diabetes, and cardiovascular health.
Contact Jessy to schedule a fun, yet informative session on nutrition and wellness.