Holistic dental health

Eat well, sleep well, breathe well, and smile with confidence

In Health and Healing by David CowhigLeave a Comment

Dental health is an important component of holistic wellness, in more ways than you probably realise.


Readers of LivingNow magazine are typically concerned with what they put in their bodies. Whether that is the food they eat, supplements they take, or the way they hydrate for optimal health. We are also becoming increasingly aware that a good night’s sleep is just as essential for our bodies to heal and regenerate. And particularly that deep restful sleep is aided by nocturnal nasal breathing. If we are unable to reach this deep, healing sleep stage, the ability for our body to detoxify is in turn being hindered.

Nervous system disturbances

The system responsible for our involuntary functions throughout the day and night is the autonomic nervous system. This system is divided into two branches: the sympathetic which predominantly runs our bodies during the day, and the parasympathetic that ramps up during our deep sleep at night. When we nasal breathe at night we calm the sympathetic branch and stimulate that of the parasympathetic. If for any reason we are unable to reach this deep stage of sleep, where the parasympathetic system kicks in and the vagus cranial nerve is stimulated for digestion, healing and repair, we may find ourselves in a sympathetic-dominant situation during the night.

The most typical symptoms of this are; waking regularly feeling hot, often with your heart racing, and needing to use the bathroom. It is common also to find it hard to get back to sleep once awake. If this sounds familiar you may find that no matter which expensive supplements or special diets you pursue, you wake up in the morning feeling exhausted. Waking up tired is a typical symptom of someone whose adrenals have been working all night leading only to further fatigue.

During the day, as at night, the majority of our breathing should be via the nose. Our nose is a natural filter for the body. There are mechanisms present in the nasal cavity that are responsible for our bodies’ production of nitric oxide. This is a vital molecule responsible for vascular vasodilation throughout the body. If you find that you are breathing through your mouth for the majority of the day it is possible you are over-breathing, which can lead to a build up of tension, anxiety, raised blood pressure, and a reduction of the body’s oxygenation.

So what has all of this got to do with your dental health? 

Lets try this simple test. Close your lips together and bite hard on your back teeth. Breathe slowly through your nose for 10 seconds. Take a note of how it feels, and how comfortable you are. Do you feel that you are able to breathe adequately? Now relax and pause for 5 seconds before placing your index finger in between your front teeth sideways. Seal your lips around your finger and now breathe through you nose. Is there any difference? Are you able to fill your lungs with air more easily? This exercise can be repeated when you are lying flat in bed. The majority of people who take this simple test find the difference in improved nasal airway more marked with an ‘opened’ bite.

If you feel that there was an improvement in your breathing when your teeth were apart, this can indicate that if you are clenching and grinding your teeth at night, your breathing and airway will be impaired. Research is beginning to show that people who clench their teeth may actually be experiencing some degree of airway obstruction. This reduced airway is in turn likely to stimulate the body to activate the adrenals or the commonly know ‘fight or flight’ sympathetic system, causing regular waking episodes throughout the night and inhibiting the body’s ability to reach that deep healing sleep we all strive for.

The repercussion of a reduced airway

From a more obviously physical perspective, our body becomes aware that its airway is not optimal and will make physical changes to optimise the airway. Generally the lower jaw will move forward and the neck will arch raising the chin to clear the tongue from the back of the mouth and improve airway space. This leads to noticeable wear on the front teeth. Sufferers often wake experiencing head and neck pain. And, in some instances, leads to jaw joint clicking and pain (referred to as TMJ in the dental profession). Unfortunately for loved ones, snoring is also highly likely.

A further side effect of disturbed breathing will be waking with a stale and dry mouth. Saliva has a protective function in the mouth. It’s designed by the body to wash away harmful bacteria from teeth and gums. And also buffering any acidic solution that we put into our mouths in the morning. So an increased risk of acidic attack, tooth decay and gum disease can often result from those nocturnal adverse breathing habits. This in turn leads to changes in the oral biofilm that is present on and between the teeth. And subsequently will be more likely to colonise bacteria that can cause a level of whole-body systemic inflammation. The links between inflammatory diseases such as gum or periodontal disease and heart disease, diabetes, stroke, arthritis and even cancer of distant organs is well documented. Frequent, recent research is indicating the importance of a healthy mouth.

Dangerous metals

When it comes to any existing dental restorations, the effects of night clenching and grinding due to obstructive airway issues can be quite pronounced with the wearing down and constant polishing of any old-fashioned silver mercury fillings. These fillings in particular are made up of over 50% mercury. And unfortunately micro amounts of elemental mercury in a vapour form will be released and rapidly absorbed into our body tissue, mainly via the lungs, as they are ground upon. In 1991 the World Health Organisation stated that there is no level of mercury exposure that will not cause harm. Research also shows that mercury can have a profound effect on our oral and gut micro-biome.

Dentistry has historically used many different metals for restoring teeth. It is not uncommon to have a medley of gold crowns, silver amalgam fillings, chrome metal dentures and even titanium implants in the mouth at one time. Unfortunately the more metal in your mouth the higher electrical charge you can have interacting between these metals. This oral ‘battery’ environment leads to increased mercury release from any silver fillings. Additionally there are recent concerns about the effect of electromagnetic radiation on these metal implants in our body tissues.

But the future looks brighter! There are metal-free alternatives for all dental needs including fillings, crowns or bridges. Even bioceramic zirconia dental implants that can be used to replace a missing tooth without needing to be destructive to the teeth either side of the space. The zirconia dental implants have been used for over 15 years in Europe in the top holistic medical and dental clinics and are now available in Australia.

The solution

In order for children to avoid all of these issues, your holistic dentist can guide you, even with very young children, on how to optimise their early jaw and airway development so they can sleep well and grow healthily, which leads to happy smiles.

As an adult, there are a number of strategies that can help you overcome all of these issues. Dental splints, mouth guards and myofunctional rebreathing training will not only protect your dental investment but improve your sleep quality. A medical referral for a home sleep study is recommended if sleep apnoea is suspected. And specialised splints that hold your lower jaw open and forward may be suggested. The consequences of poor jaw form and function leads us to head and neck pain, poor sleep quality, an increase in oral bacteria, fatigue and inflammation, increasing the risk of chronic illness.

Your wellness-orientated dentist should be able to assess every individual situation. They should work in conjunction with your natural health and longevity practitioner to help you sleep better, address inflammation, toxicity and infection and create a total metal-free solution for your smile that reflects your natural beauty.

3 simple tips

Here are three simple tips that will help you improve the health of your mouth.

  1. Coconut oil pulling in the morning for 5-20 minutes. Swish about 2 teaspoons of oil in your mouth, then spit. (Don’t spit it down the sink, it could eventually cause a blockage.) Then brush your teeth as normal. The first five minutes are for the health of your teeth and gums. It is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic and anti-viral. If you know you are a mouth breather it is worth persevering for longer than five minutes if you can. You can only breath through your nose when oil pulling. This calm nasal breathing will stimulate calm in the body and will get you ready to deal with your day.
  2. Avoid dairy products at night for a better night’s sleep. If you already snore, the dairy will create nasal and tonsillar congestion. This will not only make you snore louder, but also increases the risk of sleep apnoea. Also the dental consequences discussed above.
  3. Whenever possible in the day, keep your lips together, tongue touching the roof of the mouth and your teeth slightly apart. Place Post-it notes around your house to remind you to do this. Your day will be calmer.
About the author
David Cowhig

David Cowhig

Dr David Cowhig qualified in dentistry in 1989 at Kings College London. He nurtured a wellness-orientated philosophy early in his career and gained a Fellowship in Nutritional and Environmental Medicine with ACNEM in 1998, the same year he set up his holistic dental practice. Now nearly twenty years on, he is still passionate about the connection with your oral fitness and how it reflects overall health and longevity. He is also a certified anti-ageing practitioner (A5M 2016). Happily married with three children, he has a dental practice in The Gap focussing on total holistic dental solution for the whole family, and a satellite practice in Newstead where he has established the first Australian totally metal-free ceramic zirconia dental implant and aesthetic dental centre. dentalwellness.com.au

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