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5 Things your dentist probably isn't telling you

Your oral health affects the health of your whole body. I created AsktheDentist.com to empower you with the must-know tips and advice for a healthy mouth and body for life.

You and your dentist should be talking about a whole lot more than just your smile

We all instinctively know the power of a smile. A smile is the first thing we notice in other people. It's a hallmark of attractiveness and intelligence.

But you and your dentist should be talking about a whole lot more than just your smile.

Your dentist is responsible not just for your teeth, but also the health of your mouth and the development of your jaw, face and airway. In fact, anything placed in the mouth could affect the size of your airway and thus your ability to breathe without interruptions at night, which affects the quality of your sleep.

Here are five things your dentist might not be bringing up at your appointments, so bring up these up yourself at your next checkup!

1. Grinding your teeth is a red flag for sleep apnea

We used to think grinding was caused by stress or the teeth not coming together properly, but the latest brain scans reveal that grinding is an instinctual response to an airway that has been compromised. The human airway narrows at night thanks to the relaxation of the muscles that usually keep the airway open, along with other reasons. Grinding your teeth requires your teeth to touch. This brings the jaw forward from its previously slack-jawed position during sleep, opening the airway. It's also believed that, along with the impulse to grind, other muscles including neck and shoulders and muscles of the airway are also engaged in some way. By activating this response, deep sleep is interrupted, not to mention the teeth are damaged by the intense forces of grinding. Interrupted sleep breathing is easily treated and treating it early on can prevent premature aging, heart and circulatory system damage, anxiety, depression, decreased IQ and unnecessary wear and tear on the immune system.

2. Bacteria are friends, not foes

You'd think from all the advertising we've seen that to stay in good oral health you have to kill all the bacteria in your mouth. This is plain wrong! Good oral health depends on a delicate balance of good and bad bacteria in the mouth. Antiseptic and antibacterial oral health products are usually broad-spectrum, meaning they wipe out both good and bad bacteria, making us susceptible to regrowth of the wrong kinds of bacteria in our mouths.

3. Any cosmetic work requires a foundation of healthy teeth

You can't remodel the kitchen if there's dry rot in the foundation. In our modern society, we often want to be "thin before we're fit" or, in this case, we want to whiten our teeth before we get concerned with making sure they're healthy. Your dentist should not be doing cosmetic work for you without helping you take care of your gum disease and crowded teeth first.

4. Cavities can heal themselves, in some cases

People tend to think of teeth as inanimate objects that can eventually develop a hole that needs to be filled. But teeth are alive. They're dynamic. Think of them like an organism. They're always in a state of flux. They're trying to regain lost minerals faster than they are losing minerals. Remineralization and demineralization are a dynamic process. Control and manage that process correctly, and you'll never get cavities. The key is to make sure remineralization occurs at a greater rate than demineralization. This is done with diet and oral hygiene, but also by managing the systemic health of the tooth. There are plenty of natural ways to promote remineralization. Dark chocolate with 80 percent cacao content or higher is a powerful teeth remineralizer. Chewing on cacao nibs would be the best option for teeth remineralization, although perhaps not the tastiest!

5. Oral health affects your heart and your mind

When I was in dental school, we learned about the teeth in isolation from the rest of the body. But oral health has some strong connections to overall health and well being. Gum disease can contribute to heart disease, dementia and pregnancy complications. Your dentist should also be talking to you about and screening you for oral cancer. In addition, an untreated small airway will cause interruptions in your sleep that can undermine any efforts you make to improve your health. Poor sleep trumps diet and exercise when you're looking to improve your health; it's that fundamental. If you have heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease or any other chronic inflammatory conditions, your dentist should work with your doctor to understand how your gum disease might be contributing to your CRP levels.

Oral health is so much more important than many people think. While we rely on our health care practitioners, we also have to empower ourselves and rely on the doctor that resides inside each of us to take charge of our health.

If your dentist isn't bringing up these topics, then you should.

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