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What the Mouth Can Tell Us

Posted on 9/20/2012 by Dr. Martha E. Rich
Close up of a woman's smiling mouth Speech may well be one of the most powerful gifts our mouths have given us, but it’s very possible that the health of the mouth itself could be telling us so much more than anything we can say.

In my practice, I have always been amazed by the way chronic disease, stress, and hormonal fluctuations are reflected in the bacterial environment in the mouth. Often these changes are noted long before a medical diagnosis can be made, and I always encourage my patients to have regular medical check-ups – especially when a major change in the mouth that cannot be explained by diet appears.

Recently, Christina Warinner, an archeological geneticist, appears to have taken this idea even further in her studies of the fossilized dental plaque found on the teeth of ancient peoples. By analyzing the microbial DNA captured in the fossilized plaque, she has been able to extrapolate information about the kinds of diseases and infections these people lived with and possibly even died from. In her TED Talk, she even jokes that we could all do future archeologists a favor by not brushing our teeth because the data is so intriguing.

Of course, as a dentist I would never recommend that you stop brushing your teeth for the sake of science. But what does excite me about these findings are the possible diagnostic applications for the future. Imagine if we could take a sample of dental plaque from a living patient and have a more precise indication of what system in the body may be compromised just by the types and numbers of microbes that are present. Non-invasive screenings based on the interrelationships between bodily systems may not be as far off as we think. And the idea that we are what we eat may very well turn out to be more meaningful in terms of whole-body health than we ever thought possible.

We still do not understand exactly how oral bacteria and chronic disease are related, but we do know that they are. This month, I’m talking more in depth about what dental plaque is, how it grows, and how we can all protect our teeth – and possibly even our bodies – from the damage that an overgrowth of oral bacteria can create. I hope that you will take a look at The Story of Plaque, and feel free to ask me or my staff any questions you may have about the specific environment in your mouth at your next appointment.

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Dr. Martha Rich, DMD, 833 SW 11th Ave, Suite 405 Portland, OR 97205; (503) 228-6870;; 4/14/2024; Related Phrases: dentist Portland OR;