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861 Willow Drive
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Telephone: (919) 942-2154
A holistic approach to oral health and wellness.

Your Health and Your Teeth:
Critically Vital Connections

“Oral health is much more than simply having clean teeth,” explains Dr. C. Michael Willock of Chapel Hill, who is respected throughout this area and beyond as a knowledgeable, talented, and committed holistic dentist.

Using the Dental Meridian Chart, Dr. Willock explains the connection between teeth and the health of other organs in the body.

“In fact,” he adds, “oral health involves the gums and their supporting tissues, the palate, the lining of the mouth and throat, the tongue, the lips, the salivary glands, the chewing muscles, the nerves, and the bones of the upper and lower jaws.”

Diseases and
Oral Health

Dr. Willock notes that some of the most common diseases that impact our oral health include tooth decay (cavities), gum disease, and oral cancer. “Oral conditions are frequently considered separate from other chronic conditions, but these are in fact actually interrelated—with research indicating associations between chronic oral infections and diabetes, heart and lung disease, stroke, and low birthweight or premature births.

“For example,” he says, “dental problems put you at risk for a heart attack. Additionally, substances that are released from inflamed gums can actually kill brain cells and lead to memory loss. And dementia may result from gingivitis when the bacteria in the mouth spreads to the nerve channels or enter the bloodstream.

“In other words,” says Dr. Willock, “oral health ultimately, supports and reflects the health of the entire body.”


“Diabetes,” notes Dr. Willock, “is an example of a serious systemic condition with profound and direct connections to oral health and illustrates how completely our body parts and systems are connected.”  

There are many examples of this, he notes. “For example, a recent study out of Korea reveals a relationship between total tooth loss and diabetes. The connection between severe periodontal disease and diabetes is also well-established. Probably because diabetics are more susceptible to infection anywhere in the body, people with diabetes are more likely to have periodontal disease than people without diabetes. In fact, periodontal disease is considered the ‘sixth complication’ of diabetes.”


Connecting Tooth Problems to Other Disease

The American Academy of Periodontology (AAP), Dr. Willock points out, “makes the case that infections in the mouth can cause major health problems in other organ systems in the body. AAP studies affirm that periodontal bacteria can enter the bloodstream and travel to major organs and begin new infections. The conse-quences,” he says, “may include the development of heart disease; an increased risk of stroke; an in-crease in a woman’s risk of having a pre-term, low birth-weight baby; and a serious threat to people whose health is compromised by diabetes, respiratory diseases, or osteoporosis.

“It may seem unlikely, that a little bleeding of the gums may signal the onset or possibility of major health concerns, but it’s nonetheless true,” observes Dr. Willock. “And the problem is per-vasive: estimates are that about 15 percent of adults between 21 and 50 years old, and 30 percent of adults over 50 have periodontal disease.

“A testing tool that I routinely use is the Meridian Dental Chart, which shows how certain organ systems relate to particular teeth.” The meridian system, he explains, is a traditional Chinese medical practice that holds that a series of electrical channels—qi—run from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head, going through the teeth. “The Chinese have used this system for thousands of years; Americans have finally started to see its diagnostic value.

“If there is an issue connected with a tooth, it can affect bodily organs elsewhere in the body. Using this chart, I look for the affected tooth to see what organ it’s connected to. Everything is inter-connected—you just have to do some sleuthing.”

He adds that “poorly controlled diabetics are especially at risk because research shows they are more likely to develop periodontal disease than well-controlled diabetics. Emerging evidence also suggests that periodontal disease predicts the development of end-stage kidney disease in diabetic patients.”

Furthermore, he says, “the relationship between periodontal disease and diabetes goes both ways: the presence of periodontal disease may make it more difficult for dia-betics to control their blood sugar and severe periodontal disease can increase blood sugar levels. This puts diabetics at increased risk for diabetic complications.”

Preventing Periodontal Disease: It’s a Choice

Periodontal disease is a serious health problem for anyone, not just diabetics, says Dr. Willock. “In fact, periodontal disease is associated with many other serious health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and dementia.

“The good news is that it is entirely within our power to prevent periodontal disease—by developing the habit of good, daily dental care.
“When you have gum disease,” ex-plains Dr. Willock, “and an estimated 75 percent of the U.S. population has some form of this problem—the nasty germs we see in the microscope go to work to destroy the gums around teeth. It starts with plaque, which is a sticky film of food, saliva, and germs. Plaque loves to settle at the gum line, where germs busily make gums red, tender, and likely to bleed.

“The goal of daily dental care is to clean away plaque, by brushing and flossing. When plaque is not removed, it hardens into tartar, which builds along the gum line. It becomes a vicious cycle. So, it’s extremely important to treat early signs of gum disease promptly, and to have regular check-ups with a dentist to ensure that plaque does not build up.

“Gum disease begins with gingivitis, which, as it worsens, becomes periodontitis,” he explains. “With the more severe form of periodontitis, the gums begin to pull away from the teeth. Pockets form between your teeth and gums, fill with germs and pus, and deepen. When this happens, you may need surgery to save your teeth. If nothing is done, the infection goes on to destroy the bone around your teeth, causing teeth to move or loosen. Your teeth may fall out or need to be removed.”

Dr. Willock notes that this is an especially difficult condition for people with diabetes. “Plaque is a key issue in confronting gum disease, and this is more difficult for diabetics. High blood sugar levels often make gum disease worsen, even as the gum disease in turn makes diabetes harder to control.

“It’s important to note that gum disease can start at any age,” warns Dr. Willock, “and it is certainly not limited to those with a chronic illness such as diabetes. However, children and teenagers who have diabetes are at greater risk than those who don’t.”