Today’s article is a guest post by Dr. Mark Burhenne, the #1 bestselling author of The 8-Hour Sleep Paradox. As an authority on dental health, he is also on a mission to help shift the conversation about sleep from quantity to quality as the foundation for primal living. As a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, Dr. Burhenne blogs about the mouth-body connection on his website, AsktheDentist.com. Today, he addresses some of the most pressings topics surrounding oral health from an ancestral health perspective, which , if you think about it, can be summed up with the following question: If Grok didn’t floss his teeth, why should I, especially when I’m living a primal lifestyle?
Here we go:
What happens in your mouth affects the rest of your body, which is why your oral health is an essential part of primal living.
There’s no bypassing the mouth. And if you don’t take care of what’s inside of it, you could have more to worry about than just cavities and fillings. Today, our mouths can be a source of many problems that ail us—like poor sleep quality and poor microbiome health. But even more seriously, studies have shown that bad bacteria in the mouth can contribute to cardiovascular disease, dementia, preterm labor, pancreatic cancer, diabetes, and more.
Poor oral health has effects downstream in the body. And poor systemic health in the rest of the body can show up in the mouth—it’s a two-way street.
Obviously, Grok was not aware of this, but he didn’t have to worry about this mouth-body connection. Why? His diet matched his biology, his lifestyle was more suitably adapted to his surroundings, and, as a result, he didn’t have to deal with the onslaught of negative epigenetic influences that we do today.
But let me back up a bit. This story begins when Grok was an infant.
From the moment Grok was born, he was breastfed. Baby Grok sucked on a fleshy (not plastic) nipple, which helped develop a perfect swallow and tongue reflex. There was no transition from sippy cups to soft baby food—he went from mother’s milk to unrefined, unprocessed foods, which had the toughness necessary to stimulate proper jaw development. A well-developed jaw meant his airway had plenty of room at the back of the throat to stay wide open even during the muscle collapse in deep stages of sleep, allowing him to get as much HGH (human growth hormone) as possible each night. HGH bolstered the immune system, warded off disease, and allowed Grok to be his best and brightest each day. His diet was rich in organ meats and bone marrow (Vitamin K2), which also promoted proper development of the lower third of the face, allowing for straight teeth and a wide airway for uninterrupted sleep. Baby Grok was also born vaginally, which exposed him to a host of beneficial bacteria, establishing a robust oral microbiome.
By comparison, modern humans are exposed to sippy cups, pacifiers, plastic nipples, and soft processed foods starting from birth. As a result, the lower third of the face is underdeveloped in most of the population, leading to snoring, sleep-disordered breathing, and sleep apnea even in people who are young and in shape. For modern people, braces are so common they’re nearly a rite of passage, but rarely do we stop to think that those crowded teeth are a result of a jaw that never got to grow to its full size thanks to a childhood diet of applesauce and crackers. Modern humans are also more likely to be born by C-section—a medical necessity in our modern world, but with consequences to the microbiome.
The result? Modern humans suffer from gum disease and cavities at high rates of 60% and 90%, respectively. Instead of addressing the root cause, we scrape away at the problem by brushing and flossing. But brushing and flossing don’t come without a consequence—every time we brush, we create a bacteremia (bacteria in the blood, which is normally sterile). Bacteremia appears within 60 seconds and lasts for at least 20 minutes, which shows just how connected the mouth is to the rest of the body. But those bacteria are quite different from what they used to be during Grok’s day—because of our modern diet, the biofilm is thicker, so there’s less exposure of the teeth to oxygen and saliva, changing the makeup of bacteria in the mouth. The oxygen-hating bacteria (anaerobes) have become much more dominant in the mouth, changing the makeup of our oral microbiome.
To make matters worse, many people use antibiotic mouthwashes on a daily basis. This is like using a nuclear bomb in the mouth—killing off both good and bad bacteria and causing them to grow back in the wrong ratio, making the oral environment even more dysbiotic.
Cavities, crooked teeth, poor sleep, and chronic disease are seen as normal in the modern world, whereas in Grok’s, they were rare.
Like I said earlier, oral infection, especially gum disease, may affect the course and the manner of the development of many systemic diseases, such as breast cancer, pneumonia, diabetes, and even low birth weight and preterm delivery.
The most well-known mouth-body connection is the one between gum disease and heart disease, including several studies that show a relationship between gum disease and stroke. A common bug in the mouth that causes gum disease is also found in the endothelial cells in the walls of hardened arteries. It’s clear that inflammation in the mouth isn’t contained—it spreads to the rest of the body. And 70-90% of people living in the US have some sort of inflammation in the mouth.
Pneumonia can result from infection by anaerobic bacteria. Dental plaque and calculus are the source of these bacteria, more likely in patients with periodontal disease. Such patients harbor a large number of bacteria below the gum line where oxygen is less prevalent. Studies have shown that people with respiratory disease have significantly higher oral hygiene issues than people without respiratory disease.
Periodontal disease is also seen as an early complication of diabetes. So much so that a dentist can detect undiagnosed diabetes and even early prediabetic conditions just by performing an oral exam.
Given all these correlations, it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that gum disease has been regarded as a stronger indicator of total mortality risk than coronary artery disease.
So it’s time to control the environment and not the bacteria—something Grok did every day of his life, just by living his life in a way that matched his evolutionary biology.
So here’s how to optimize your moth-body health the primal way.
Thankfully, the primal way of eating helps to optimize oral health by protecting teeth from acid attacks and promoting good oral microbiome health. Proper nutrition allows the pulp to heal the tooth from the inside and it nourishes the oral microbiome, allowing the tooth to be healed from the outside. This dual front optimization allows the tooth to continually renew itself.
Afterwards, go straight to foods with substance, like sugar snap peas and salmon jerky, which promote proper development of the lower third of the face and airway.
Transition kids directly to a stainless steel cup, like Caveman Cups.
See a dentist who is concerned with facial development, or trained in Orthotropics (I recommend finding an orthodontist here.)
This nurtient helps both kids and adults. In kids, Vitamin K2 promotes straight teeth and proper development, and in adults, it keeps teeth strong, promotes remineralization of the teeth, and prevents heart disease. The modern diet is devoid of Vitamin K2 in large part because our animals are no longer pasture-raised and we no longer consume organ meats.
For those of you who can truly say you are eating like Grok 100% of the time, then theoretically, you wouldn’t have any need to floss. But we are so removed from our ancestral diets that it is impossible to eat as our ancestors did. In a perfect world, we’d be eating a diet that nurtures the biofilm, instead of eating a diet that alters it to the point where we have to remove it daily to prevent disease. Eating a diet that requires the scrubbing of the teeth afterwards is a perfect example of how we have drifted from the harmonious matching of diet to health.
So even though flossing may not seem like the best fix for this mismatch between our diet today and our evolutionary origins, it’s certainly become a necessity of our modern lifestyle. So don’t stop!
Dr. Mark Burhenne
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