The secret to systemic health: chewing sugar free gum
Your mouth is the gatekeeper of your entire bodily system – maintaining a healthy mouth truly leads to a healthy body
Unbeknown to many, bad oral health has been linked to multiple underlying systemic conditions throughout the body. In fact, many chronic medical conditions can be discovered during routine dentist appointments as they are evidenced in the mouth. Home to a staggering 700 different microbes, the mouth is brimming with mostly harmless bacteria, however as the entry point to the digestive and respiratory tracts, bad oral health can easily lead to oral infections, enabling harmful bacteria to enter the body.
Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, explains: "The link between oral health and overall body health is well documented and backed by robust scientific evidence. Despite this, only 1 in 6 people realises that people with gum disease may have an increased risk of stroke or diabetes. And only 1 in 3 is aware of the heart disease link.”
Furthermore, it is so important to practice good oral hygiene to prevent periodontitis, a severe form of gum disease. This bacteria-caused inflammation and bleeding in the gums offers an inlet for bacteria to contaminate the bloodstream, and can potentially lead to abscesses, heart valve infections and even sepsis. Supporting this is recent research from US health care company Mayo Clinic, reporting that oral bacteria and inflammation could contribute to various diseases and conditions including endocarditis, premature birth, pneumonia and heart disease. Ongoing research is also assessing whether gum disease is an independent risk factor for heart
disease. The going hypothesis is that bacteria from periodontitis can gain access to the body’s circulatory system and penetrate the endothelial cells that line the inside of the blood vessels. One study found that around 40% of atherosclerotic lesions contained remnants of periodontal
pathogens that normally are only found in the mouth.
Similarly, even though the gut has a number of barriers to prevent pathogens from entering, harmful mouth bacteria can still get in via the digestive tract and put the ecosystem askew. When swallowing mouth bacteria such as P. gingivalis, this can lead to dysbiosis, where the gut microbiome becomes imbalanced and negatively affects health.
Backing this up is a study observing that a single administration of P. gingivalis significantly changes the composition of the gut microbiome, and in turn affects the function of the gut barrier. Diseases linked to gum disease and gut dysbiosis include obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, type II diabetes and pancreatic cancer.
An unobvious preventative measure to help protect against these diseases is to chew sugar free gum, of which xylitol is a key ingredient. Xylitol, a naturally occurring sugar found in many fibrous fruits and vegetables, significantly reduces harmful bacterial numbers in the mouth. Surprisingly, it has been proven that this sugar boosts dental health and prevents tooth decay by
stopping plaque bacteria sticking to the teeth by raising the pH of the mouth. Cariogenic bacteria prefer living in a low pH environment and produce the acid that demineralizes enamel. In the presence of xylitol, the bacteria stop producing acid as well as the polysaccharide slime that holds the biofilm together, so they simply slide off the teeth. Additionally, studies have shown that xylitol can even help reverse the decay itself by helping to replace the minerals in tooth enamel.
Chewing sugar free gum also offers multiple other lesser known benefits. Chewing sugar free gum has been reported to boost moods, help sustain attention and reduce stress. This is due to the methodical act of chewing, which promotes blood flow to the brain, reducing salivary cortisol levels – the body’s primary stress hormone. Chewing sugar free gum also aids cognitive performance, which includes multiple mental abilities such as problem solving, decision making and attention. A clinical study found that gum chewing had consistently positive effects on mood during an acute laboratory stressor. Those who had taken part in the study and chewed gum reported significantly
better alertness, reduced anxiety, stress, and salivary cortisol, and outperformed others on multi- tasking tests known to evoke stress .
Practising good oral health does more than give you a lovely Zoom-smile, but also really works wonders for the entire body.