A Window Into Health

Author: Dr Ian Hedley

You may be familiar with the phrase “the eyes are the window into the soul” but have you ever heard the saying that “the mouth is a window into health”?

In fact, for thousands of years physicians, traditional medicine practitioners, different health care practitioners and healers have been looking into their patients mouths for clues as to what ails them.

 Traditional Chinese Medical (TCM) doctors believe the tongue mirrors the health of the patient. The belief that the tongue is connected to all other parts of the body through “meridians” or energy pathways guides their diagnosis. That’s why one of the first things you might end up doing at a TCM consult is saying “Aaaahhhh”.

Ayurvedic medicine – the traditional Indian medical system has long used the tongue to diagnose imbalances in the “doshas” or body types of their patients. Inflammation of internal organs, the presence of toxins and malabsorption of nutrients can show up as signs on the tongue.

This ancient Indian model of medical wisdom also promotes the daily use of a copper tongue scraper to remove the coating of bacteria and toxins known as a “biofilm” from the surface of the tongue. This coating accumulates overnight and can cause bad breath and compromise the digestive system. Daily tongue cleaning is considered essential in Ayurveda as it removes toxins and bacteria from the body whilst promoting a fresh and healthy mouth.

The mouth can be one of the first places to show signs when there are nutritional  deficiencies present in the body.

Vitamin C is a great example of this. As humans we don’t produce any vitamin C at all so we must obtain it from our diet-fresh fruits and vegetables being the main source. A deficiency of vitamin C can affect our ability to produce collagen- the connective tissue that keeps our gums healthy and our teeth supported.

We know this from the early sailors on long voyages. They would develop scurvy, gum disease and eventual tooth loss as a result of not having access to fresh fruits and vegetables while out at sea.

The mouth may also show signs where there is an iron deficiency anaemia and vitamin B12malabsorption. These deficiencies may present as a sore and red tongue. There may also be ulcers or lesions on the tongue or other soft tissues of the mouth which can often then become inflamed and infected.

Also, certain gastrointestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) often cause painful and uncomfortable symptoms such as blisters and lesions in the mouth.

The mouth, being the very start of  gastro-intestinal (GI) tract can not only give us signs about the health of this tube, but also plays a significant role in the health of the digestive system.

The mouth is where we mechanically breakdown our food with our teeth and bathe it in enzyme rich saliva before being swallowed.

The mouth is prime real estate for bacteria- as is the gut…. It’s time to take a good look at not only the bacteria in the gut but also the mouth.

Just like in the gut, there exists a delicate balance between the “good” and “bad” bacteria in the mouth that make up an “eco-system”.This is known as the “oral microbiome”. We know that certain bacteria can cause tooth decay whilst others can lead to inflammation of the gums and eventually periodontal disease. The key as with everything in life is achieving a balance. Making sure there are enough of the “good” bugs to outweigh the “bad” ones is important for the health of the mouth.

 The intimate relationship between the mouth and the rest of the body is proving to be very significant as more and more research emerges.

 We now know that there is a strong link between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease. Researchers have found that people with  are almost twice as likely to have heart disease. Given the link between these two systemic diseases, the mouth can be considered as significant as the heart when we look at cardiovascular health.

Furthermore, periodontal disease can affect fertility, diabetes and contribute to the inflammation responsible for rheumatoid arthritis.

As we can see the mouth is not only a valuable tool giving us many clues as to our internal state of health but it also plays a very significant role in overall health through its many pathways of connection to the rest of the body!

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