With our culture's recent emphasis on health and wellness, it seems many of us are searching for the perfect diet, the perfect exercise routine, the best way to foster personal growth in relationships. The list goes on.

So what about oral health? As an orthodontist, I'd say we don't give enough attention to this very crucial area of our body's well-being. Sure, we all know we should brush our teeth at least twice a day. Flossing is key, too — and gum health is just as important as dental hygiene.

That said, we could all be a little bit more well-versed in the details of oral health. Here are five things you probably didn't know about oral health:

1. Paleo breath is a real thing.

The latest most popular dieting craze is undoubtedly the low carb / high protein diet. Think Paleo, Atkins, South Beach and so on. Individuals on these diets may have noticed a number of changes since their dieting began and these changes aren't just limited to weight loss.

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I'm talking about "bad breath." Bad breath is caused by the excretion of the anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that do not need oxygen to survive) that live within your mouth. Normally, the bacteria present in our mouth are responsible for the breakdown of proteins found in our diet, saliva, mucous and phlegm. These anaerobic bacteria excrete sulfur compounds which are responsible for bad breath.

The rotten egg smell (hydrogen sulfide) and the barnyard smell (methyl mercaptan) are known as VSCs — Volatile Sulfur Compounds. Due to the increase in higher protein foods for those on a low carb diet, the amount of Volatile Sulfur Compounds common found in the oral cavity increases dramatically and as such the breath of people on these diets gets worse.

So to keep your mouth from smelling like a barnyard, drink plenty of water, brush twice a day, floss once a day, use a tongue scraper and be sure to have a dental checkup at least twice each year … And if it isn't already part of your everyday dental routine, try adding oil pulling to the mix!

2. Absence makes the heart grow fonder!

Absence of plaque, that is. You may not realize it, but your mouth is the gateway to your body and a bellwether of overall health. To better understand how what's happening in your mouth can affect your whole body, it helps to understand the basics of oral infections ...

Bacteria, viruses, and fungi constantly barrage the mouth. These invaders may cause common oral infectious diseases like periodontal disease. Your immune system will move in to attack the infection and as a result, the gums become inflamed. This is gingivitis, a common and mild form of periodontal or gum disease. But over time, inflammation and the chemicals it releases eat away at the gums and bony structures that hold the teeth in place. The result is a severe gum disease, known as periodontitis.

Research has shown that people who have periodontal disease are also at an increased risk of having thicker carotid arteries, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. Though the reasons are not fully understood, it's clear that gum disease and heart disease often go hand in hand. Up to 91% of patients with heart disease have periodontitis, compared to 66% of people with no evidence of heart disease.

Broken down into simple terms, the more bacterial plaque you have in your mouth, the more fatty plaque you will have in your heart and arteries. Scientists speculate that periodontal disease may start a surge of chemical reactions that can cause inflammation throughout the body. Inflamed blood vessels allow less blood to travel between the heart and the rest of the body, raising blood pressure. All of these factors contribute to a higher incidence of heart disease and stroke.

3. Braces aren't just for cosmetic results.

Most people view orthodontics as nothing more than a cosmetic correction to improve crooked, misaligned and poorly spaced teeth. What many people don't understand is that orthodontics goes way beyond the cosmetic appearance of teeth, helping people achieve better overall health and a greater sense of well-being.

Poor spacing and alignment of teeth affects not only your ability chew foods properly, but also affects the efficiency of your digestive system and proper absorption of nutrients. Misalignment may also affect the longevity of teeth, which may result in early tooth loss. Over time, loss of teeth and greater wear and tear on remaining teeth may lead to the development of TMJ disorder, a group of conditions that cause severe pain and dysfunction of your jaw and adversely affect your lifestyle. This leads us to our next topic ...

4. Mouth pain affects more than just your mouth.

As is typical with chronic pain elsewhere in the body, broken or missing teeth, dental and jaw pain not only impede our day-to-day ability to eat and function properly, but can also have a deep emotional impact.

In temporomandibular disorder, or TMD, the muscles around the jaw joints become tight and inflamed. While behavioral factors like excessive gum chewing, arthritis and trauma to the jaw can result in temporomandibular disorder, teeth grinding and stress are the most common causes of TMD.

Along with jaw soreness, stiffness, and clicking or popping, TMD symptoms can include ear and neck pain, headaches and difficulty in opening the mouth completely. Shoulder and lower back pain, numbness of hands and fingers are also not uncommon in stressed out patients suffering from TMD. If you have head, neck or jaw pain, or if your biting your cheeks or chipping your teeth, a visit to an orthodontist should be high on your priority list.

5. The diploma helps, but it's your teeth that could make the difference.

Numerous studies show a strong correlation between physical appearance and the size of your paycheck. Research by Daniel Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle, found that better than average looking people earn 5 to 10% more than average looking people, who earn 5 to 10% more than below average looking people. Having an attractive smile is an important component of physical beauty and studies show this "beauty premium" exists across all occupations.

But income isn't the only thing impacted by the appearance of a person's teeth. Researchers have noted pronounced negative associations with crooked, discolored and decaying teeth. Approximately 40 percent of respondents to a 2012 study by Kelton Research said that they would not date someone with crooked teeth. And about 73 percent said that people with straight teeth are more trustworthy.

In yet another study on the link between beauty and perception, Israeli researchers digitally manipulated the teeth on subjects in photographs and asked people to give their first impressions. The researches noted similar patterns of discrimination against people with poor oral health, finding that people with crooked, discolored and missing teeth were judged to be of limited intelligence, low class, bad parents, less professional, less physically beautiful and lacking social skills.

Photo Credit: Stocksy


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