If eyes are said to be the window to our soul, then the mouth can be a window to our health. Teeth are the closest we get to seeing the state of our bones, so a problem with our teeth can be an indication of a problem with our bone health. For example, bone density loss can manifest as loose teeth and tooth loss, as well as making the mouth more susceptible to gum disease due to increased ‘nooks and crannies’ for bacteria to hide away in1. An early symptom of gum disease is bleeding gums when brushing or flossing. Don’t ignore bleeding gums as they are the body’s early warning sign that inflammation is present.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation plays a role in every chronic disease. That is not an overstatement, but a fact. If we want to increase our chances of being healthy and keeping our teeth then we need to know how to reduce chronic inflammation. To understand more fully the role inflammation plays in our body, it is important to understand the difference between acute (short-term) inflammation and chronic (long-term) inflammation.
Acute inflammation usually occurs due to an injury or trauma – for example, when we burn ourselves or sprain an ankle. It causes redness, pain, swelling and warmth which serves to protect the area from bacterial infection and increase healing. This type of inflammation is beneficial, apart from the fact it might make us feel sore temporarily!
Chronic inflammation on the other hand can be less obvious, and is involved in the development of disease. The four largest causes of death in the western world – cancer, heart disease, diabetes and neurodegenerative disease (such as Alzheimers) – may all be tied to the common thread of chronic inflammation.2
Symptoms and causes of inflammation
Bleeding gums are a sign of chronic inflammation and a signal that you definitely need to visit your dentist. Chronic inflammation can also appear as tiredness, body pain (particularly joint), skin rashes, excessive mucus (constant clearing of throat for example) and poor digestion (bloating, constipation, diarrhoea).
A multitude of factors can contribute to chronic inflammation such as a low-grade viral infection (Lyme disease for example), the food we eat (such as wheat sensitivity or excess sugar consumption), toxic environmental exposures (air pollution or asbestos exposure), lack of sleep, and even stress.3
There are steps you can take to reduce inflammation in your body, which have the benefit of improving your oral health as well as whole body health.
Five ways to reduce inflammation
This is often the most accessible and one of the most effective ways we can take control of our health. The first thing to do is reduce sugar intake – the best way to do this is avoid processed foods wherever possible. Secondly, eliminate any foods that are likely to cause problems – the top two offenders are gluten (found in wheat, barley and spelt products) and dairy. Thirdly, include foods high in antioxidants such as fruits (opt for low sugar fruit such as berries), vegetables (include plenty of green leafy vegetables), and healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil, oily fish, nuts, seeds and avocados which are an important source of fat soluble vitamins and omega 3 essential fatty acids, all of which have anti-inflammatory effects.
Just one night of sleep deprivation increases inflammatory markers in the body that raises the risk of heart disease and autoimmune conditions4. Aim for a consistent bedtime and give yourself a sleep window of at least eight hours. Additionally, try and get outdoor sun exposure for 20 minutes soon after waking (cup of tea outside?), and avoid exposure to screens and bright lights in the hour or two before bed. This helps to set and regulate your circadian rhythm
Relaxation and stress management
Chronic stress tinkers with our immune system, resulting in increased levels of inflammation5. Take the time to find an activity that relaxes you, whether it’s time spent in nature, meditation, a candlelit bath, or curling up with a good book, undisturbed.
Don’t feel daunted by exercise! Research now shows that just 20–30 minutes of moderate exercise is enough to reduce markers for inflammation in the body. This could be a brisk walk, weight lifting, yoga, a game of tennis… the possibilities for fun and health are endless!6
And of course, last but by no means least, a thorough and regular dental hygiene regime to keep your teeth and gums healthy!