The Pass It On series is an interview segment where BioMark sits down with trail blazers who have striven to make health and wellness work for them on their own terms. We hope this inspires you to find the best fit for yourself, too.
One of Singapore’s leading dentists, Dr Surinder Arora graduated from the University of Sheffield with a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) and passed the MFDS examination with the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh. Additionally, she has also worked in multiple UK hospitals under oral surgery and restorative dentistry faculties and was involved with the British Dental Association. Dr Surinder is currently based in private practice in Singapore and is also part of the Oral Health Awareness and Ethics Committees of the Singapore Dental Association.
BioMark: Hi Dr. Surinder, it’s nice to have you back! In our last interview, we spoke about the risks of poor dental health and introduced the relationship between our dental health and general health. With this being said, what do you think is the best way to establish this relationship between our dental and general health such that people acknowledge its importance?
DS: The best way to do so is to put the mouth back into the body and not to think of it as a separate entity. Remember that everything in the body is actually linked. The deteriorating health of one part of the body could affect the health and function of another.
For example, the result of poor development could lead to crooked teeth and breathing through your mouth. Poor breathing and sleep apnea can affect the whole body.
Additionally, the whole digestive process starts in the mouth. That’s really important because without our teeth we can’t start chewing food, which hinders the digestive process and we can end up with gastro and nutrient issues. Additionally, the type of bacteria in the mouth could also relate to bacteria in the gut.
At the end of the day, it’s all about putting the mouth back into the body.
BioMark: So the first step we have to take is to acknowledge that our dental health has a huge impact on our wellbeing and that our body’s organs are all interconnected?
DS: Yes, absolutely.
BioMark: It is common knowledge that our mouth is vital in the body’s consumption of food. But just how big of an impact do our teeth have on our nutrition?
DS: First off, our oral cavity is designed to start the digestive process amongst other things. So when you’ve got food, you put it into your mouth and start chewing- this is a multi-sensory process. When you start chewing, you start breaking down the food and breaking open cell walls in order to extract and digest nutrients. In addition to that process, you have salivary amylase, an enzyme released in the mouth, which helps to start digestion. This is absolutely fundamental because, without this process, you will have more difficulty extracting nutrients for your body’s health.
BioMark: What about the impact of nutrition on our dental health?
DS: With regard to how nutrition affects dental health, growth and development, there was research done by a Cleveland dentist called Weston A Price in the 1930s. He travelled far and wide and studied indigenous tribes and communities all over the world. He took note of their consumption of a traditional whole foods diet with minimal processed foods. He then noticed that when people started consuming a more modernised diet of processed foods and refined sugar (what we’re fuelled on now), there was a higher rate of dental decay. In addition, there was poor development of the craniofacial structures with the modernized diet. This resulted in crooked teeth and altered facial structures. So this is an example of how nutrition has a direct impact on how we grow and develop.
BioMark: So would you say that as society has ‘progressed’ and our food has become more processed, that our dental health has deteriorated?
DS: Yes, this is definitely the case.
BioMark: You’ve been a dentist for quite some time now but is there still anything that surprises you when it comes to your patients?
DS: It’s a little surprising that most people don’t know that sugar plus bacteria leads to dental plaque. Plaque then causes cavities and also sits around the gum, which causes gum disease. Additionally, the mouth is the ideal environment for bacteria to flourish. Many people also don’t realise that cleaning the tongue is really important due to the layers and layers of plaque that builds up on it. This is also an indicator of overall health.
Another aspect most people aren’t aware of is the development of our jaw structure. Most people walking around with crooked teeth today ask for them to be straightened as the society we live it see straight teeth to be desirable. However, if we were we consuming the essential vitamins- A, D, E, K – as well as chewing and actively using the muscles of the mouth from a young age (amongst other practices), we’d probably develop well and not need this type of treatment.
BioMark: Earlier on you mentioned that the food we consume has the ability to affect our jaw structure and posturing. How does this have an effect on the way we live?
DS: A great example is how our posture and our jaw structure has a direct impact on our breathing and even on our sleep. For example, if I’m a mouth breather, I’m positioning my head forward and breathing through my mouth. This naturally has an effect on my spine, because it affects my posture. Sleeping with your mouth open at night isn’t good, it prevents effective carbon dioxide and oxygen exchange. This feeds back to the brain and you don’t get restful sleep which can cause a multitude of problems in the body. These are things that people don’t really know.
BioMark: Wow, a lot of this is actually new to me. The only experience I’ve had with dental care was when I was taught as a child to brush my teeth twice a day and not to eat too many sweets. Additionally, I didn’t know much about how dental plaque could affect my teeth or how dental cavities were formed.
DS: That’s the thing, it’s so important to understand these elements. Then we can do something about them. Education is absolutely fundamental to health care. Not only education but like with everything, behavioural change.
BioMark: Moving on, we all know that disregarding certain aspects of our health could possibly result in certain health ailments. What are some risks of overlooking our dental health and what can we do to avoid them?
DS: To start off as you mentioned, the professional standard of dental health is to brush twice a day, floss, have a balanced diet, and try avoiding refined food products like sugars. Right now we’re living in a world where more than 10% of Singaporean adults are classified as obese. According to the National Health Survey 2012, the proportion of obese adults aged 18 – 69 was 6.9% in 2004 and increased to 10.8% in 2010. The Diabetic Society states that 1 out of 9 people aged 18 – 69 has diabetes. That’s 11.3% of the population – 400,000 people In Singapore.
BioMark: What do these statistics mean for Singaporeans?
DS: These statistics clearly show that we need to start being more conscious of our food choices and how often we’re moving our bodies. As we know, food is linked to our dental health. For example, when you eat sweets or drink coke, the sugar goes directly on the teeth. In addition to this, we have no idea what chemicals are in the drinks we consume or the food we eat. Do you have any idea what’s in that can of coke zero you have there?
So keep to a balanced diet, avoid sugar to avoid decay and remember to drink enough water. As well as keeping you hydrated, this will keep the mouth moist and will aid in washing any unwanted debris away.
BioMark: I’m embarrassed of my decision to drink coke now! Well, people’s perception of health and wellness is so vast and can vary from individual to individual. With this, do you have any dental or general health tips and tricks for people to keep in mind when trying to keep their bodies in tip-top condition?
DS: I’d say the first thing is to listen to your body. Everybody is different, we may have the same generalized needs but the quantities needed are different.
Mainly, just keep in mind to breathe deep, get enough sleep, and drink 2-4 litres of water a day. Move your body and do something fun with your exercise. If your high-intensity workout isn’t doing it for you, do some yoga, go for dance, or even go for a run. Switch it up and remember to chew your food, stay social, and open your heart to love. Take care of your relationships with friends and family because they are fundamental in your well being as well.
BioMark: Yes, without family, friends, and health, life would be so dull! One last question, if there was only one thing you’d wish for people to take away from all your advice and expertise as a dentist, what would it be?
DS: To smile. Smiling is the way you express your joy to the world. It’s really just expressing how you feel. You never know who might need your smile; you might be giving one to someone who needs it more than you do.
Well, you’ve heard it first from the experts! Dental health is so much more than brushing twice a day and flossing regularly. Instead, take note of the types of food you consume and keep in mind the relationship between your general health and your dental health. One cannot be without the other and all aspects of your health should be well taken care of for you to be healthy and happy.
For more information, check out Dr Surinder’s page here.
Interested in what we talked about previously? Check out the Part 1 of our interview here.
Alternatively, reach out to us with suggestions on who you would like to hear from next.