Pawhuska Dentist shares startling relationship between dental health and disease transmission

By: Roseanne McKee

Dr. Adam Bulleigh, from Green County Dental Arts of Pawhuska, spoke recently about tooth decay, a new approach to fighting it and startling revelations about dental health’s relationship to disease transmission.

Dr. Bulleigh told the Pawhuska Rotary Club audience that there is a direct relationship between a person’s stomach bacteria, and their dental health.

“The new paradigm is that in your body you’re growing a garden, and the fertilizer you use will determine how much of each species you have.”

According to Dr. Bulleigh, the recommendation now is to get less than ten percent of daily calories from sugar and the ideal diet is about 80 percent plants.

“That makes me kind of cry a little bit inside,” he said jokingly.

“One thing that changed my mind about this, was a study about rats, which found that the rats without gut bacteria, could not think as well. They couldn’t go through mazes as quickly, they couldn’t solve problems, they didn’t take care of their offspring as well,” Bulleigh explained.

“In our body, we actually have more bacteria than human cells, so it’s really that we’re symbiotic beings. We live with the bacteria. Changing the bacteria in your mouth changes your brain and how you think, so that being said, your diet is what’s feeding that.”

Tooth decay is just the first visible symptom of a high-sugar diet, Dr. Bulleigh said.

“One thing that happens when you have a high-sugar diet, they find that 80 – 90 percent of the bacteria in there are good at breaking down sugar, which makes sense, right? If you’re healthy, and you eat sugar, you won’t be able to absorb as much sugar as someone who eats sugar all the time, so once we get a little overweight, our gut gets good at extracting even more calories from sugary foods. The bacteria that live on healthier stuff, they start to die off,” he said.

There is some good news, however, for those with a habit of eating a low-sugar diet. For these people, eating sugar occasionally may not result in weight gain because their gut bacteria is healthier, and not able to efficiently extract calories from the sugars ingested, Dr. Bulleigh explained.

“In your own life, don’t rely on your willpower. Build an environment around yourself, and your kids, where [the food] you reach for at arms length is good.”

Consider placing a fresh fruit bowl at eye level in your refrigerator, rather than hidden in the bottom in a drawer. Don’t buy high sugar foods, so that they are not in your pantry at snack time.

“With sugar, specifically, it’s worth noting what a serving size is, and for something like ice cream just having a serving size, which is one-half a cup.

This is not just for those seeking to lose weight or be in shape, he said.

What we eat is “radically altering the balance of life that lives in your stomach….If you kill all the good stuff and the only thing that survives is the bad stuff, then every time you eat, there’s an impact,” Dr. Bulleigh said.

“Meat is good. We need protein, but not as much as most people eat.”

Quoting a gastroenterologist, Dr. Bulleigh said, “’the unbalanced makeup of gut microbes no longer represent the well-diversified ecosystem that regulates your immunity. It fosters inflammation loosening tight junctions that hold together cells in your intestinal lining. This causes bacterial toxins to seep out into the body where they act on our genes and promote further unhealthy inflammatory responses.’”

Another startling fact, he revealed is that “the bacteria in your mouth is a transmittable disease.”

“When you are born as a little baby, your mouth is sterile. The first time your mom kisses you, you get bacteria. If your mother or father have healthy bacteria in their mouth, then the bacteria in your mouth will be pretty healthy. But when I see a child with teeth like that (he shows a slide of a child with tooth decay), I can almost guarantee you that the mother has periodontal disease. The bacteria in the mother’s mouth are stronger and do more damage.

“What’s happening in medicine is we’re moving away from this idea of individual treatment. It’s more of a public health thing because you can try to treat a 14-year-old child, whose parents and uncle is obese. Can you really treat that child without treating the whole family? You can’t. Diet is now becoming more and more important.”

He explained that in dental school now they are having nutritionists come in so that graduates can provide some nutrition counseling to tell patients why decay is happening.

Dr. Bulleigh showed a slide of a child’s decayed teeth.

“This child is 2-3 years old. It’s possible this child is brushing and flossing every day, but the problem is the sugar. What you’re seeing is the human body was only meant to take so much of certain things.

“These kids are brushing their teeth – a lot of them. Four-minutes a day brushing your teeth, twice a day can’t compete with six hours of bathing your teeth in sugar. I can fix cavities, but six months later they’re bigger, they grow. If I fix this, what you’ll see after about a month between the plastic and the tooth is a crater, it’s already started to decay again.

“Believe it or not, working on a three-year-old is not the most fun thing for anybody involved. Of course, you can always put them in the hospital, put a child under general anesthesia, but the average cost of [this type of] pediatric dental case is $8,000.

“Sugar has been a part of the American diet that has grown and grown. One problem we created is that we were told for 30 years that fat was bad, so those ingredients were replaced with sugar. People continued to gain weight.

“Every state in the union has at least 15 percent of people who are obese. In Oklahoma thirty percent of the population is obese.

“Over the past 50 years, the dentist would tell parents just to make sure the child brushed and flossed his teeth. However, the dentist would not warn against sugar intake,” he said, but that is changing.

These days, “the pediatricians know now to say no juice in the bottles at night; no juice in the sippy cups. So, everyone’s on board…but what I think is going to change in the future is the politics of this.”

Dr. Bulleigh forecasts the growing possibility of a tax on sugar to promote public. “Sugar and big soda companies aren’t going to like it, but the data is prevalent,” he said, and suggests the need for change.

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