Discover more from Midlife Strong
4 Simple Ways to Boost Oral Health
In matters of midlife health, don't forget your mouth
I never gave my oral health much thought besides brushing, flossing, and going to the dentist. Most of it was about keeping my teeth healthy, not about keeping my whole body healthy.
Yet the health of our mouth matters a lot. It’s one area I’m much more focused on these days. After all, digestion starts when we put food in our mouth.
For example, saliva moistens food as we chew, and the enzyme amylase helps break down starch and lingual lipase breakdowns fat. Also, saliva protects the lining of the esophagus, and heartburn has been linked to a shortage of saliva.
In fact, at midlife and beyond, saliva production decreases, which can show up as GI disturbances. And the microbes in our mouth matter too, with over 700 species found in the mouth.
This becomes especially important in midlife because of the decline in nitric oxide, that Magic Midlife Molecule. This means we more heavily rely on nitrate-reducing bacteria in our mouths to start making nitric oxide from the food we eat. For more details on this see this post.
People with more nitrate-reducing bacteria may enjoy lower blood pressure and better glycemic health. According to a 2019 study in Journal of the American Heart Association:
A higher relative abundance of oral nitrate-reducing bacteria was associated with lower insulin resistance and plasma glucose in the full cohort and with mean systolic BP in participants with normotension.
Researchers also believe the bacteria in our mouth plays a role in the bacteria in the rest of our GI tract. In short: a diverse bacterium in the mouth has whole body-reaching implications. Additionally, there are estrogen receptors in the mouth making menopausal women vulnerable to oral disturbances.
Although the science is just getting started, I wanted to share four ways you can boost your oral health starting NOW.
1. Chew food slowly and drink water
The act of chewing alerts the stomach that food is coming as it gets ready with acid production. If we do it too fast, our body may not be ready for the food we eat.
Drinking water also helps because it keeps us hydrated, which ups saliva production. This decreases not just due to age but menopause. In fact, a dry mouth is one symptom related to menopause.
So, scarfing down lunch at your computer may not work so well anymore. Try taking the time to enjoy your food without distraction. All with a large glass of water!
2. Avoid long-term use of antiseptic mouthwash
Just 10 years ago, the thinking in dentistry was to keep the mouth as clean as possible. Problem is we have a balance of good and bad bacteria. Antiseptic mouthwash kills all the bacteria, including nitrate-reducing bacteria.
A 2020 study showed that people who used chlorhexidine mouthwash had a shift in their salivary microbiome, leading to more acidity. Not only that, but they had lower nitrate availability and higher blood pressure.
“Although the use of proven oral antiseptics such as chlorhexidine is still considered safe in principle," a recent review points out. "current guidelines for the prevention and treatment of caries and periodontal disease recommend their use as an adjunct to mechanical plaque control only for certain indications and limited time spans.”
3. Increase your intake of nitrate-rich foods
Food such as salad greens, cabbage, beets, and celery are full of nitrates. The more nitrate-rich foods we eat and chew, the more nitrate-reducing bacteria we produce.
In one study, researchers assessed the consumption of nitrates and periodontal health. One group consumed nitrate-rich lettuce juice (200mg nitrates) and another lettuce juice without nitrates. Over two weeks, those who consumed the nitrate rich juice had half the gingival inflammation compared to baseline.
The control group had a small non-significant improvement compared to the baseline levels.
Although we need more research, evidence from interventions show that a veggie nitrate-rich diet may aid oral health and increase beneficial bacteria.
4. Practice good oral hygiene habits
It’s well established that gum disease is associated with a higher rate of cardiac events.
It would make sense that keeping good oral hygiene would also help. Researchers followed 354 people over 18 years, brushing (including and flossing regularly) reduced the risk of heart disease by 50%. They found mouthwash to have no effect, although more people with high blood pressure used mouthwash.
Another paper found scraping your tongue helped increase the nitrate-producing bacteria in the mouth. So don’t ignore the tongue!
Researchers have not found evidence that fluoride in toothpaste kills good bacteria, but there is a lack of extensive research. I switched to a prebiotic toothpaste called Revitin and feel it has improved my overall health.
You can always have your oral microbiome tested, something I plan to do soon. One company I found is Bristle Health. This may be especially helpful if you experience bad breath, inflamed gums, burning mouth syndrome, or any oral-related issues.
Oral health matters
I believe in the coming years, we’ll discover much more about the oral microbiome. For now, it’s important to do what we can to help ensure it’s not a hindrance to health.
Have you focused on your oral health?
Thanks for reading Midlife Strong! Subscribe for free to receive new posts, my Midlife Biomarker Guide, and support my work.