Here's Why Oral Health Is Important And How It Is Linked To Digestion

Written by Dr. Pramod Mane on Wed, 16 November 2022


We need our teeth in order to chew our food, give shape to our face, pronounce words properly, and of course for smiling in pictures! Teeth are the hardest substance in the human body and play a crucial role in the process of digestion. Oral hygiene is often overlooked in both children and adults, and this can lead to various problems and frequent visits to the dentist. Oral health is crucial for our overall well-being and to keep ailments like cavities, gingivitis, and periodontitis at bay.

Oral diseases and their causes

Oral health refers to the health of teeth, gums, and the entire oral-facial system that allows us to smile, speak and chew. When oral health is ignored, the danger of dental and oral diseases arises.

1. Cavities

Cavities or caries are fairly common. They are caused when dental hygiene is not maintained post eating which leads to the deposition of food particles in the gums and teeth. These tiny morsels decay and produce plaque and bacteria which then produce harmful acid that damages the tooth enamel and even causes bad breath.

2. Gingivitis

Gingivitis is the inflammation of the gums that results in gum sensitivity, pain, and bleeding of gums.

3. Periodontitis

Periodontitis is the advanced diseased state of gingivitis that can eventually spread to the jaw. It has been linked to various systemic diseases like respiratory diseases, kidney diseases, obesity, metabolic ailments, rheumatoid arthritis and even cancer.

4. Sensitivity

Sensitivity of teeth is usually caused when the tooth enamel is worn off or when roots of the tooth are exposed. These might sound like big names but these conditions are more common than we know.

5. Halitosis

Halitosis is an oral health problem where the main symptom is bad-smelling breath. It may be caused by poor oral healthcare, periodontal disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, liver disorder, etc. Finding the cause of the bad breath is the first step toward treating this condition.

Causes of oral diseases

  • Not brushing your teeth properly
  • Not brushing your teeth twice a day
  • Allowing the buildup of plaque on teeth: Not rinsing your mouth after meals or snacks can often lead to plaque buildup.
  • Eating too many sugary substances: Sugar is detrimental to teeth as it causes caries.
  • Poking gums and roots of teeth with foreign objects like toothpicks: It might seem tempting to pick your teeth with a toothpick, but it often leads to sensitive and bleeding gums.
  • Smoking or chewing tobacco: Smoking weakens your body's immune system, making it harder to fight off gum infections. Smoking also makes gum healing more difficult and slower. Smokers are at twice the risk for gum disease compared with a nonsmoker. Smoking can even lead to yellowing of the teeth and lung cancer. Chewing tobacco is also one of the leading causes of mouth cancer.
  • Not seeking professional dental care even when pain persists

Teeth and digestion: What's the connection?

A question might be looming in your mind- can dental problems cause stomach issues? The simple answer to this is-yes. When we eat food, teeth are one of the first entities to interact with it. Their role is mastication (chewing) of food. They reduce the food in size and pass it down to the stomach.

During this process, if the teeth are in poor condition, size-reduction of food particles won't take place properly; this will later result in indigestion of food and other digestive problems.

If a person has unkempt teeth, plaque- plaque is a sticky layer on the teeth which harden if not cleaned. Bacteria proliferate on the plaque. These bacteria will be mixed with the chewed food in the mouth and gulped down into the stomach! Research has found that the oral microbiome may have a great effect on the health of the gastrointestinal system.

The oral bacteria can translocate to the gut and alter its normal functioning. Changes in gut microbiota can lead to disturbances in immune responses, altered PH of the gut and also cause dysregulation of the gut. Bacteria from Conditions like gingivitis can cause intestinal dysbiosis (loss of beneficial bacteria in the gut). This shows us that oral health and digestion are interlinked.

Bacteria from the oral cavity can find their way into the bloodstream and can cause infective endocarditis (infection of the heart valves). This is the reason why dentists prescribe antibiotics before dental surgeries.

Bad teeth cause health problems

1. GERD and tooth erosion

Heartburn is a condition when the stomach acid rises up to the throat and the mouth. This is normally not an issue as the saliva balances the acid levels in the mouth. However, for people suffering from GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disorder, this happens too frequently and the gastric acids reach the mouth throughout the day.

This causes damage to the teeth and leads to the wearing off of the protective enamel on your teeth, a process known as tooth erosion. Teeth erosion affects the appearance of the teeth and also may allow harmful bacteria to cause cavities in the mouth.

2. Oral health and chronic conditions

Oral conditions are frequently considered separate from other chronic conditions. However, they are actually interrelated. Poor oral health is associated with other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Canker sores are often seen in Crohn's disease patients.

Oral disease also is associated with habits such as using tobacco and consuming sugary foods and beverages.

How should you keep those pearls shiny and healthy?

Taking care of your teeth is of the utmost importance because dental enamel is non-regenerative, meaning the damage caused by bacteria to the enamel is naturally irreversible. Prevention of plaque build-up and caries is the easiest, safest, and the cheapest way towards better oral care, followed by these good habits:

  • Brushing your teeth twice a day.
  • Using dental floss regularly.
  • Cleaning your tongue with a tongue cleaner.
  • Using fluoride-rich toothpaste.
  • Using alcohol-free mouthwash and gargles.
  • Avoiding sugary foods and frequent snacking.
  • Visiting your dentist regularly.

Foods to boost your dental health

Certain foods have the ability to improve our oral health. Incorporating these foods in our diet can do wonders for our oral health!

  • The power of fiber: Eating fiber rich fruits and vegetables can prove to be a boon for our oral health. While Chewing these fiber rich foods lots of saliva is generated which keeps the oral cavity hydrated and clean. Saliva Also contains calcium and phosphate which restores the minerals in the teeth. Eating fruits and vegetables also clean your gums of plaque and ingested food particles. All in all snacking on fresh vegetables and crunchy fruits is great for your oral health!
  • Fluoride foods: Foods enriched with dietary fluoride can boost our dental health. Fluoridated drinking water, gums or meat can provide our teeth with the essential fluoride. Foods like spinach, black tea, potatoes, grapes, raisins and wine contain natural fluorides and can help us with our dental health.
  • The goodness of dairy: Foods like cheese, milk, curd and other dairy products are excellent sources of calcium and phosphates. These foods can help our teeth rebuild the eroded tooth enamel. Cheese is a saliva maker and helps in the flow of saliva throughout the mouth.
  • Green and black teas: Teas are rich in polyphenols that interact with the plaque in our teeth and Prevent the formation of harmful acids. This acid can erode our teeth enamel and cause cavities. The polyphenols in these teas can fight against these bacteria and stop their growth, thus protecting our teeth.

By following these recommendations we can not only improve our oral hygiene but also save ourselves from a lot of digestion-related ailments! By choosing natural fluoride-containing foods we can boost our oral health and prevent many diseases. It's safe to say that we can pave our way to a smooth-functioning digestive system by taking care of our teeth and that teeth really do a lot more than just chew!

Read more : Menopause? Here's How Your Digestion Might Be Affected


Dr. Pramod Mane

A Doctor of Medicine (MD) in Pharmacology., currently based in Mumbai, India, Dr Pramod Mane, comes with an experience of more than 20 years of working in Medical Affairs in the Pharmaceuticals & Nutraceutical Industry. Director of Medical Services at Mega Lifesciences since 2008, Dr Mane has been associated with several MNCS in the areas of Medical Affairs, Medical Services, Medico-marketing, Pharmacovigilance & Clinical trials in his illustrious career.

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