Dental cavities and periodontal diseases are now being linked to much greater health concerns than just poor oral health. The most prominent non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer have been found to share the same risk factors as gum disease and impotence.
Research is further supporting the concept of 'you are what you eat'. Lifestyle factors such as the rapid increase in the consumption of sugar, alcohol and processed foods are expected to cause a major deterioration in the nation's overall health.
Non-existent or deficient tobacco regulation is found to be compounding the problem. The use of tobacco has been estimated to account for over 90 per cent of cancers in the oral cavity and is associated with inflammation, periodontal breakdown, poor oral hygiene and eventual tooth loss, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The impotence link
A new Turkish study involving 120 male subjects that had periodontitis and moderate-to-severe erectile dysfunction (ED) found that the effective treatment of inflamed, bleeding gums lessened the symptoms of ED within three months.
"To our knowledge, this is the first study to assess a potential link between the severity of ED and the treatment of periodontal disease," wrote the researchers from Inonu University in Malatya, Turkey.
ED is a known side effect of inflammation in the body that contributes to poor oral health, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. The conclusion of the study provides an active solution to the low-reaching problem of erectile dysfunction.
However, the findings fuel controversy of whether periodontitis is the sole cause of ED or if it only shares similar causative factors that compound the problem. Regardless, it's stimulating news for ED sufferers.
The absolute impact unknown
Severe periodontitis or bleeding gums is minimally found in five to 15 per cent of the population. However, the occurrence and seriousness of the problem is greatly under-reported, and the long-term health ramifications are commonly misunderstood.
The cost of traditional dental treatment is often very expensive, but the long-term financial impact is often greater. The cost of pain, suffering and the diminished quality of life is considerable. The long-term cost of heart disease, diabetes and cancer trumps the relative minimal cost of good oral health.
What is periodontitis?
Periodontitis is a severe infection of one's gums that destroys the soft tissue and bone that holds one's teeth in place. Gingivitis is the mildest form of periodontitis and is known to cause red, bleeding and swollen gums.
The condition is a major cause of tooth loss and has been linked to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and other serious health problems, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Some people may be genetically predisposed to this disorder but the most common cause is lifestyle induced. Lifestyle factors include but are not limited to poor oral hygiene, tobacco use and hormonal changes associated with gaining weight and the development of diabetes. Nutritional deficiencies, medication side effects and excessive stress are additional risk factors.
Brushing doesn't change one's diet
The first line of defence against any condition is the prevention versus the treatment of the problem. It's important to understand the short and long-term effects that our lifestyle plays on oral, sexual and overall health.
Brushing and flossing one's teeth at least twice a day is paramount in oral health but will not make up for one's poor lifestyle choices that will contribute to the development of periodontitis and beyond.
A leading contributor is the over-consumption of sugar and sugar-producing products. Sugar products are often unknowingly found in processed food sources such as snacks, breads, sodas and other convenience foods. They are a leading cause of weight gain, diabetes, inflammation and impotence.
Eating fresh, whole, unprocessed foods that contain critical vitamins and nutrients has been found essential in maintaining good overall health. Eating soft, mushy, over-cooked foods that are low in fibre has been found to negatively affect the health of one's gums. The actual process of chewing has been found to be vital to healthy teeth and gums.
An anti-inflammatory diet
Important vitamins and minerals include vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, folic acid and zinc. Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, kiwi, mango, papaya, strawberry, red pepper, broccoli, brussel sprouts and cantaloupe.
Sun exposure is the most important source of vitamin D. The sun's UV rays trigger the natural production of vitamin D in the skin. Vitamin D is critical for the absorption of calcium in the body as well.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Periodontology found participants that consumed vitamin D and calcium-rich foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt had significantly lower levels of periodontal disease.
Folic acid, specifically, has been shown to reduce the inflammation and bleeding that is associated with periodontal disease. Foods that are high in folic acid include spinach; dark, leafy greens; beets; whole grains; and milk.
Green and black teas contain flavonoids that are known to inhibit the growth of the bacteria associated with tooth decay. These teas are also known to stimulate one's immune and digestive system that is critical in the absorption of nutrients.
It's important to supplement a good-quality multivitamin/mineral if available. This will improve any dietary deficiencies that are necessary to maintain a healthy, vigorous immune system that will help fight off dental bacteria.
Preventing side effects of medications
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is another critical nutritional support. It is known to improve gum tissue and help decrease receding gum lines. CoQ10 is also critical for muscles throughout the body. Many cholesterol medications are known to destroy CoQ10 and can cause muscle pain and general weakness.
Other medications such as antidepressants are known to induce dry-mouth symptoms that promote unhealthy bacteria that can lead to additional tooth decay. The use of birth-control pills can lead to an increased risk of gum disease by encouraging bacterial growth in the mouth, according to the journal Contraception.
Quitting smoking is one of the most critical to-dos in the battle against periodontal disease, heart disease, diabetes and erectile dysfunction. Over half of the chronic cases of periodontal disease have been linked to tobacco use.
Choices versus genetics
Taking a proactive approach to one's health is the most important aspect in the prevention of disease. Unfortunately, many individuals wait until a health condition develops to find that the reversal of the condition is impossible or significantly more difficult that the prevention of the condition in the first place.
Pre-packaged foods are known to have dangerous food additives, preservatives and colourings that will destroy any quality nutrients and set one on a path of developing inflammation, periodontitis, erectile dysfunction, heart disease, stroke and eventual death.
Our health is impacted by our personal choices more than our genetics. Consume a diet that is rich in natural, whole foods and avoid the food products that are in a can, bottle, bag or box. Our health is ultimately our choice, pick wisely.
• Dr Cory Couillard is an international healthcare speaker and columnist for numerous newspapers, magazines, websites and publications throughout the world. He works in collaboration with the
World Health Organisation's goals of disease
prevention and global healthcare education.
Views do not necessarily reflect endorsement.
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