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you are what to eat concept

I have tens of thousands of conversations with my Patients (and parents if a Patient is a child/teen) a year and while you might guess that the most prevalent topic is the Minnesota Viking’s chances of getting into the next Superbowl, it seems like a growing percentage of those conversations are about oral health. The mouth gives telltale signs when its health is out of balance, and it’s the job of your Team at Warford Orthodontics to talk about those signs and educate you about ways to improve your oral health.

Nobody likes gum tissue that’s swollen, painful, and bleeding, and we like decalcification (white spots) and cavities even less. All of these symptoms result from an environment where disease causing bacteria are “winning the battle” over the beneficial bacteria and other mechanisms by which the body protects itself.

This “battle” is linked directly to oral health practices; most Patients understand that. Evidence is emerging however about the effects of what you eat once the food/drink is ingested, not only when it passes through the mouth.

For years I would tell people that brushing after meals or sugar-containing beverages was the protocol. It is critically important, but it ignores the effect of that food or drink once your body digests it. Does it really matter though if you brush and floss well? You bet it does.

As an organic gardener and amateur chef, I’m passionate about food and its effects on my health and the health of my family. As an orthodontist, I’m passionate about food’s effect on my Patient’s health, even though most of my Patients think I’m referring to their oral health when I say that. The reality is that my Patient’s systemic health and oral health are inextricably linked so I’m remiss if I talk about oral health exclusively, ignoring the effects systemic health has on the oral environment. I care about more than just your teeth; your overall health and happiness are at the top of my list!

“You are what you eat” is a phrase that has obscure origins, but when it first hit mainstream in the English language it was in the 1920’s by nutritionist Victor Lindlahr. Ironically, if you think that “junk food” is a new phenomenon (and I’d argue that “junk food” of the 1920’s is different than the 21st Century) he was quoted as saying: “Ninety percent of the diseases known to man are caused by cheap foodstuffs. You are what you eat.”

Last month I had a conversation with Dr. Al Danenberg, a periodontist (gum tissue specialist) and leading proponent on the effects of diet on not only overall health, but also oral health. As you may expect, he advises eating less sugars (whether that’s candy, soda, bread, or pastas) due to their negative effects on the whole body.

We’re all on one “diet” or another, even if it’s the “Standard American Diet” (“SAD”, ironically). The “diet” Dr. Danenberg (and many others) advocate has a number of different labels: Paleo, Primal, Low-Carb, are just a few. Essentially, the idea is to decrease the quantity of carbohydrate rich foods in your diet because they favor a certain “flora” of unhealthy bacteria in your gut and mouth that contribute to a number of disease processes, oral and otherwise.

I would also add “you are what you eat, eats.” Think about where your meats are coming from and how they were raised compared to our grandparents or great grandparents when they were growing up. I have experience in this area too, with my family being involved in beef cattle production for decades, focusing on grass fed beef which has health benefits over conventional feedlot beef. Much evidence now supports that animal fats are good for you, but its critical that the sources of the meat (and therefore the fat) be considered.

Your food choices and their quality will determine the health of the cells of your body. Healthier cells will function better and will allow your body to experience optimal health and greater longevity. This is an ultra complex subject as are most things dealing with the human body, but I’m urging you to consider that food is a very critical piece to the puzzle.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Critically look at what you’re eating. Does it have an ingredient list? If so, are there unpronounceable words on it? Google a few of those and see what they really are. Think about eating more “whole foods” and less foods that have been “put together” for you.
  • I know life is busy, but “fast food” can be food you make yourself. You’re far better off taking the extra time to put high quality foods in your body rather than save time by just “grabbing” a processed food product. Your health and energy level increase will make up for the extra time it takes.
  • Look into some of the research about more traditional foods and more nutrient dense foods. Question everything (including what I say) and do your due diligence. It’s your (or your child’s) health after all.
  • Consider the profound effects of lowering carbohydrates, especially those containing gluten. There is a tremendous amount of information supporting this as being a significant step toward better health for your whole body, not just your mouth.
  • Look into different types of fats. I grew up thinking that a low fat diet was the way to optimum health, but research now is proving otherwise. There are good fats and there are bad fats. Even a source as mainstream as Time Magazine had an article on it last summer. To read the whole thing you have to subscribe, but the video here does a good job too.

I know I’m an orthodontist, not a nutritionist, and spend much of my day talking to my Patients from the Bismarck area and beyond about braces and Invisalign – normal orthodontic topics. However, when I see disease processes manifesting in my Patient’s mouths, I’m compelled to look into it and provide education on improving it. What’s even more interesting is that the results of a nutritional lifestyle that leads to better oral health leads to better systemic health.

It’s not easy at first, but like so many other important undertakings in life, the rewards are critical to consider. Healthier bodies will result in a healthier and happier life, and those are rewards worth working for.

So, you are what you eat, and what you eat, eats. Are you happy with the health results your food is giving you? Are my Team or I telling you that there are signs of disease in your mouth or your child’s? If so, it just might be time to look into it further…

– Dr. John Warford Jr, DDS
Supreme Allied Commander of Smile Transformation