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'Backing it Up' with Functional Nutrition and Oral Health

Oral health impacts the health of the entire body. You likely already know this!

The mouth is a portal to the gastrointestinal organs where the digestion and absorption that we do day-in-and-day-out occurs. And digestion and absorption are how we interface with the food we eat. It’s where food meets physiology. If those key organs or processes are compromised, so is our ability to derive key nutrients and exercise defense from the things that enter the oral cavity.

The mouth is both the entryway and escort for nutrition and a primal defense for our immune health.

This is why I’m a fan of what I call “backing it up."

As a functional nutritionist, “back it up” is my mantra.

It’s a mantra I use to help myself resolve cases with my own clients, to support the nutrition team in my clinic when complex cases stump them, and to guide the practitioners I teach to work with their own clients and patients.

It’s also a phrase we use to enable clients to better understand what we do and what sets our work apart from other clinicians.

What Does It Mean to "Back it Up"?

Let me take a moment to explain what it really means to “back it up” and how using this mantra can help you too.

When a patient comes to us with a complaint, we want to help them feel better as quickly as possible. It’s tempting to look at their diagnosis, or their most pressing symptom, and try to head it off at the pass with some miracle nutrient or protocol. (Hair loss…must be a B vitamin deficiency—what’s the best brand? Bloating… must be small intestinal bacterial overgrowth [SIBO]—where do I find the best SIBO protocol? New Lupus diagnosis… who has the best information on this condition that I can implement for my client?)

But this approach rarely works.

Nor does it work to look at the health of the gums and teeth and to overlook that there may be problems elsewhere in the body! If you see issues in the oral cavity, you may want to inquire more about overall health and educate how these concerns can impact the rest of their well-being.

People are very complex. What led us each to the same sign, symptom or diagnosis—whether it be weight gain, fatigue, Hashimoto’s, breast cancer or gingivitis—will be different. We each have a different set of histories and life circumstances that culminate in something that has a similar name, and which rarely has a singular impact on the person, their body or the overall health. Understanding these unique distinctions is part of what it means to think functionally.

Thinking Functionally About Nutrition, Lifestyle, & Overall Health

Consider this analogy: How many recipes can you find for chocolate cake? Patients and their complex of symptoms are as varied as those recipes. Each is different and unique. Everyone has a different set of “ingredients” that led to a result with the same name.

And when we go for the sexy solution—the quick fix or the super specific and targeted nutrient (whether they be methylated B vitamins, the right form of magnesium or the recommendation to floss daily alone), we aren’t truly serving our clients. Even when those agents and practices may be a helpful part of the resolution!

What serves them, and you, is to start from the beginning. To “back it up.”

You have to ask the right questions, know how the body works and is all connected, and have a trusted and functional framework for systematically uncovering more data. It’s the process—the journey—and the information you discover during that process, that informs your next steps of care.

I liken it to building a house.

Although you might know what color you want to paint your bedroom, you don’t paint before you build the bedroom itself. You don’t decorate with an organic wool rug before the floors are installed. You don’t put the second story on before the first.

And you don’t do anything before you lay the foundation. The foundation isn’t the most fun, or the prettiest. It’s not what gets your house featured in Dwell Magazine, but without it, your house cannot stand.

Health is the same. And so is healthcare. Oral or otherwise.

If the patient is to truly thrive, there are things you must do first, before any of the fun, complicated, cutting edge work can be done.

You have to look at things like nutrition and hydration, sleep and relaxation, exercise and movement and each and every practice that impacts that area of the body. All these modifications are not based on a protocol in a book or an idealized set of standards, but instead on the needs and resources of the individual.

And if you’re a practitioner who cares at all about the importance of nutrition, you can’t ignore the role of digestion in optimizing the key nutrients you’re looking to incorporate. And this brings us back to the mouth.

You “back it up” to the patient’s skill set that’s required to help them succeed. You back it up to their chewing capacity, their daily practices and the very agents they’re putting into their body. You back it up to basic physiological functions—like blood sugar balance and functional elimination.

That’s how you get to those roots—not just the roots of the teeth themselves, but the roots of the problems that lead that patient to spend more time in your chair. This will enable those that you serve to step into their healing potential.

Andrea Nakayama, CN, will be speaking at AAOSH's 7th Annual Scientific Session, September 15-17, 2017, in Salt Lake City.