Dental problems and unhealthy gums may lead to cancer and other whole-body issues, says Dr Leigh Erin Connealy. Here’s how to keep your gums and health in the pink.
Dentists have long recommended brushing and flossing daily to prevent tooth decay. But there may be an even more pressing reason to clean up your oral health: it may help prevent certain cancers.
Researchers at Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health looked at two extensive studies of more than 150,000 men and women. Following up after 22–28 years, they found those with gum disease were 43 percent more likely to be diagnosed with esophageal cancer and 52 percent more likely to develop stomach cancer.1
More studies are needed to confirm the link between gum disease and cancer, but it certainly makes sense. The mouth is the start of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and oral health issues can trickle down into other areas if left untreated.
For instance, if you have old dental amalgam fillings, chances are they contain mercury. Many integrative doctors and biological dentists believe this dangerous metal may be released in tiny particles each time you chew or brush your teeth. These minuscule particles can leach into your brain and other areas of the body and potentially wreak havoc. The following are some common, yet often overlooked, health issues associated with mercury exposure:
Dental infections caused by root canals, jaw diseases, wisdom tooth extractions or other procedures can also cause problems. These pockets of infection, sometimes referred to as focal or foci infections, typically don’t show up on lab tests. Still, they produce toxins that can result in increased inflammation and potential cancer risk.
According to the American Cancer Society, “Some infections can cause long-term inflammation in a part of the body. This can lead to changes in the affected cells and in nearby immune cells, which can eventually lead to cancer.”2
The American Association of Endodontists reports 15 million root canals are done annually—around 41,000 per day!3 But these procedures can cause far more harm than good if done incorrectly. Typically, the dentist or endodontist takes out the central nerve, the surrounding pulp is removed from the tooth, and the gap between the crown of the tooth and the roots in the jaw is sealed with an inert substance.
While the goal of a root canal procedure is to remove the excess bacteria that reside in the area surrounding the filling, without extreme care and skilled training, some of that bacteria can remain. And that “leftover” bacteria can release toxins into the bloodstream that can travel throughout the body, causing cancer and other systemic problems.
In his groundbreaking book Root Canal Cover-Up (Bion, 1994), George Meinig, DDS, examines the century-old, landmark work of Westin Price. Price demonstrated how infections in the mouth stemming from root canals wreaked havoc on other parts of the body.
Over the years, root canals have been linked to metabolic disorders, increased inflammation, low birth weight and heart disease. In fact, one study published in the Journal of Dental Research showed that people with untreated dental infections were almost three times more likely to have cardiovascular problems.4
Fortunately, you can prevent and attack oral infections both at the dentist and at home to improve the health of your mouth and body. You can also aim for a healthier diet and lifestyle to prevent or beat cancer.
Find a biological/holistic dentist
The best way to address these oral issues before they become a problem is to consult a biological dentist. Biological dentists, also called holistic or natural dentists, view oral health as connected to overall health and work in harmony with your body. They use only minimally invasive procedures and nontoxic, biocompatible materials. Highly skilled and trained in the safe removal of dental amalgams and other holistic dental practices, they are a great ally in your quest for optimal oral health.
Remember, the removal of amalgam fillings must be done by a trained professional to ensure the procedure’s safety and efficacy. And if you must have a root canal, strongly consider seeing a biological dentist skilled in this procedure.
To find a practitioner near you, visit the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology’s website, iaomt.org, or the International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine’s website, iabdm.org. See the end of this article for the key questions to ask your dentist.
Try three simple home remedies
Between regular dental visits, you can safely and naturally improve oral health and stave off potential problems with these easy home methods.
Removing bacteria and dead skin cells from your tongue using a unique tool—aptly named a tongue scraper—is an easy and cost-effective way to improve oral health. In addition to getting rid of potentially harmful bacteria, scraping your tongue twice a day may also get rid of bad breath. Various tongue scrapers can be found online or in health food stores. Use as directed.
The ancient Ayurvedic practice of oil pulling is thought to detoxify and purify the entire body. Swishing a high-quality oil such as coconut or sesame oil around in the mouth for 15 minutes daily pulls toxins out of the body, improves oral hygiene and gum health, and may help prevent cavities.
An article published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine found that oil pulling was observed to “bring improvement in oral hygiene when practiced correctly and regularly.”5 The study’s author did note that oil pulling should be used in addition to—not in place of—brushing and flossing. Start with five minutes per day and work your way up.
Though it seems simple, gargling with salt water can have several positive impacts on your oral health. The main reason it works is that it helps stop bacteria production, which reduces plaque formation and dampens inflammation.
Other benefits of gargling with a saline solution include staving off bad breath and soothing sore throats. Simply mix ½ teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm water, gargle, spit and repeat daily for optimal results.
Many factors, including poor oral health and hygiene, may increase cancer risk. In lectures, I often close with a slide that reads, “The Cure for Cancer Is Prevention.” In short, to be perfectly healthy, we need to address all the pillars of well-being.
It’s best to work with an integrative physician who specializes in treating the whole person and can tailor specific instructions and recommendations in each of these key areas to an individual’s health concerns or needs. Find a practitioner near you through the American College for Advancement in Medicine (ACAM) at acam.org or through the Institute for Functional Medicine at ifm.org.
Here’s a short synopsis of the best ways to reverse and prevent cancer.
Let food be your medicine
Eating real, whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, and grass-fed meats and poultry found in nature and free of pesticides and hormones is a must. I often recommend a modified ketogenic diet that follows along the lines of a Mediterranean diet.
Intermittent fasting may also be appropriate, depending on your condition. Again, working hand in hand with an integrative practitioner can help you find the ideal eating plan for total wellness and cancer prevention.
Ridding the body of toxins is essential for cancer prevention. We live in a highly toxic world, and taking steps to purify our bodies is one of the most powerful ways we can promote better health and stave off disease.
Drinking purified water, ridding the body of toxic heavy metals—including old amalgam dental fillings—with proven therapies, reducing our exposure to electromagnetic pollution and staying away from harmful radiation can all go a long way toward engendering health.
Take anticancer supplements
Several nutritional supplements have anticancer properties. Many have even been proven to target circulating tumor cells (CTCs) and circulating stem cells (CSCs)—both of which must be eradicated to truly “cure” cancer.
Your integrative physician can order simple blood tests to determine the protocol that will work best for each person and their particular health concerns. An individual-specific supplement regimen can help not only prevent cancer but treat it as well.
Regular physical activity is of paramount importance for all areas of health—including lowering cancer risk. Exercise has multiple proven benefits, from reducing inflammation and boosting immune function to ridding the body of toxins and helping to reduce anxiety, stress and depression. Regular physical activity boosts mood, helps maintain a healthy weight, and increases oxygen and nutrient delivery to the brain. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.
Stress is notorious for suppressing the immune system. And if your immune system is compromised, you are at a much higher risk of cancer and other diseases. Stress relief and relaxation techniques can be done at home (meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, aromatherapy) or with the help of a professional (guided exercise classes, massage therapy, counseling/therapy).
Get enough sleep
If you’re not getting a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night, you are putting yourself at risk of a host of health conditions—including cancer. Proper sleep hygiene—which includes avoiding blue light (from TVs and smartphones) before bed and sleeping in a dark, temperature-controlled room—is essential for a good night’s sleep. Some supplements, such as melatonin, can help you fall and stay asleep through the night. Avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and being aware of medications that can hinder sleep can also improve sleep habits.
So while good oral hygiene is only a piece of the puzzle when it comes to preventing cancer, keeping your mouth in tip-top shape has multiple whole-body benefits and should be a priority.
Finding the right dental practitioner can be daunting. But if you are armed with the right questions to ask, securing a qualified dentist can be a breeze. Request the answers below to pair up with a dentist who checks all the boxes.
1) Do you use amalgam fillings?
Even though it is widely accepted that these mercury-containing fillings are laden with problems, some offices continue to use amalgams. If the answer to this question is yes, find a different office.
2) Will you ask about diet and other health-related information?
Much like integrative medicine looks at the whole person, a good holistic dentist will want to know all about your health and lifestyle habits. Do you smoke? Are you physically active? Do you eat a healthful diet and maintain an optimal weight? Are you currently taking medications or supplements? They need these answers to treat you properly and safely.
3) Do you use fluoride treatments?
According to Dr Griffin Cole, DDS, NMD, MIAOMT (smilehavendentalcenter.com), fluoride treatments are unnecessary and dangerous. Dr Cole shares, “It is very difficult to completely avoid fluoride in dentistry as most of the resin materials (composite, sealant, glass ionomers) contain small amounts of it. Fortunately, some materials do not contain it at all, and these are the options that most biologic dentists employ.”1
4) Do you do root canals?
If your dentist or endodontist is using typical treatment protocols for root canals, they will not be able to remove all the bacteria and nasty “bugs” inside the tooth. Dr Cole has good news for us, though.
He notes, “There are quite a few studies completed, or in the process, that show when the dentist uses the Fotona Lightwalker PIPS or SWEEPS laser protocol, along with oxygen-ozone therapy (or the ultrasonic GentleWave technology), you can indeed get the entire tooth clean, thereby creating a more biologically sound result.” Talk to your office about which methods they employ and choose accordingly.
5) Do you test for biocompatibility of the materials you use?
Anytime you place foreign materials in the body, there’s a chance of systemic issues. Dental materials are no exception.
Fortunately, a simple test like the Clifford Biocompatibility Assay Test can be used to determine which materials will work for each patient. Most biological dentists offer this type of testing, but you can ask for it in any office.