Nutrition and Wellness Blog

Notes from a Gut Health Nutritionist

Nutrition and Wellness Blog

Notes from a Gut Health Nutritionist

How Oral Health Affects Overall Health – Especially Gut Health

Mar 28, 2024 | Gut Health, Health & Wellness, Mindset, Self Care, The Nourished & Thriving Show

Today, let’s explore how oral health affects overall health, with guest, Dr. Jill Ombrello:

Jill Ombrello: “The fact that I meet so many patients who have defined their reality as being normal has been really fun to maybe provide a different insight. While it may be common that your kid has these symptoms, or while it may be common that you have these symptoms, that’s not normal, and by reframing, they can accept a better reality. It is my favorite thing to do because ultimately people just thrive in the environment of thinking that they could be better or healthier.

*This is a modified transcript of an episode from my podcast, The Nourished & Thriving show. This episode is titled “Beyond Brushing: Harnessing the Oral Microbiome for Optimal Gut Health” (published March 2024), which you can find on your favorite listening platform here.

*This is not medical advice.

First things first, I’m a registered dietitian on a mission to help you increase your impact and legacy on the world while healing your gut and reducing your IBS and digestive symptoms. My goal is to inspire you to live vibrantly and provide valuable resources and information that empowers you to take bold action towards your health goals.

This episode was formatted a bit differently than normal, as I interviewed a fourth generation dentist, Dr. Jill Ombrello. For that reason, it will be presented as a conversation instead of an edited recap.

Katie Lovitt: Welcome back to the Nourished and Thriving Show. I have sitting here in a Zoom room with me, Dr. Jill Ombrello, who is my family’s dentist. She is actually a fourth generation dentist. She also has four crazy kids. She says that they motivate her to learn more and be better, which I think is one of the best things about being a mom. We want to do better for our kids and inspire them and have them be inspired by us. Dr. Jill is also a huge Beyoncé fan, which is on your short list of the most important things about you.

Jill Ombrello: Well, I think it is important. And that is one of the most important things because I did pull up at a stoplight one time after work and I had Beyoncé just windows down – I was dancing, changing my energy after work before I went home, and a patient pulled up and saw me, and I thought they were going to wreck their car.

They were laughing so hard at me and I’m like, “Don’t laugh at me. Roll your windows down. Join the dance party.” But yeah, Beyoncé is my jam. I love it.

Thank you so much for taking time out of your day, of course. I’m a fan of the show and I’m really excited to be here, and hope I have something to add to the conversation.

Katie Lovitt: Oh, you absolutely do! I think this is a conversation not many people even know is a conversation: how oral health affects overall health, but gut health too. It’s something I wanted to learn a lot more about. I believe in efficiency and in going to the experts and asking them what they’ve learned is always the best way to get information before digging into rabbit holes.

So tell us, what do you do? How is the dentistry that you practice different than any other dentist somebody might go to?

A dental hygienist's gloved hands hold open a clay model of a mouth, how oral health affects overall health

What’s a biologic dentist and how do they play a part in our overall health?

Jill Ombrello: So there’s a couple of different terms that would describe the type of dentistry I practice, and I am proud to practice: A biological dentist is my favorite, a holistic dentist is another one, a non invasive early intervention dentist is the third. Basically we live in the most amazing of times…

There is so much information out there and I love having a more holistic, less invasive, more natural approach to things. That being said, I also love my Western education and there is a time and a place for Western medicine.

What a biological dentist does and what we really focus on is root cause dentistry and making sure we recognize why there’s a need for a filling. If there is disease or inflammation, why it’s there rather than putting a Band-aid on it and doing a filling or pulling a tooth, et cetera.

While yes, we also do those things because we want to focus on eliminating and stabilizing disease, but we really want to dig into what the root cause is. I think there’s another huge focus in biological dentistry focusing on the material biocompatibility, which is just a fancy way of saying, “Hey, if I put something in your body that is foreign, will your body accept it?” or “If I put this in your body, even though we know it’s a good material and it’s okay, will your body reject it causing a cascade of symptoms that now we’re trying to chase and cure?”

My grandfather practiced back in the sixties and the seventies and things were so different back then. I mean, the toxic load was quite different back then. The air he was breathing and the water he and his patients were drinking and the food they were eating was quite different than now in 2024.

Then they didn’t realize that taking mercury amalgam fillings and rolling it in your hand without a glove – just in your bare hand – could do neurologically and what that mercury would do to your body overall. This is why a lot of dentists that age, similar to my grandfather, developed a hand tremor.

My point being, there are things that we’re learning and the major focus of a biological dentist is: how do we decrease that toxic load and how do we look for root causes and address those to reduce the overall toxic load.

What’s been really exciting is this has become more of a conversation as people recognize that the mouth is the beginning of the body of systemic health. Not only what we put in our mouths, but the oral health of our mouths. We can also recognize early symptoms of other diseases in your body when they come to the mouth first. (AKA How oral health impacts overall health!)

It’s been exciting to see people feel very empowered about their oral health and very motivated to have a nice, healthy oral microbiome, and ultimately be what we like to call “our healthy, boring patients.” They come in and the oral microbiome is healthy. They’re oral hygiene is good, and we’re not “drilling and filling” every time they come in. That’s an ideal patient.

Katie Lovitt: You are just singing to my soul here whenever you’re saying that you love conventional medicine for what it does, and it has a place.

So, I read your bio on your website, and I didn’t realize we both had heart conditions diagnosed in our twenties and had life saving interventions through conventional Western medicine. So I’m with you, Western medicine absolutely has a place and it saves lives every single day. But is it the best approach for these more chronic conditions where you have multiple systems involved in all of that? I don’t think so. I think that’s where our holistic approaches to health are really great.

Jill Ombrello: And you know, it’s interesting, if a patient comes in with a mouthful of cavities and yes, we can drill and fill those, but could we do some nutritional counseling? Could we figure out if there is a high frequency of processed foods contributing to that? Is the way they breathe at night while they sleep lowering the pH of their saliva causing these demineralizations? What can we do rather than just slapping a Band-aid on it?

Having that heart condition diagnosed in my early twenties was the most formative thing that happened to me in my life. I had a congenital birth defect, so from the time I was born until the time I was 20, I lived with the symptoms of that condition thinking that it was normal… Having little dizzy spells where I lost vision was not normal. It was common for me, but it wasn’t normal.

The fact that I meet so many patients who have defined their reality as being normal, has been really fun to maybe provide a different insight. While it may be common that your kid has these symptoms, or while it may be common that you have these symptoms, that’s not normal, and by reframing, they can accept a better reality. It is my favorite thing to do because ultimately people just thrive in the environment of thinking that they could be better or healthier. And to do that through non invasive ways or holistic ways, just aligning their body with the way they’re supposed to work, not reinventing the wheel. The body is miraculous and beautiful and healing and all of the things with the proper ingredients. So empowering people to feel that way about their bodies rather than shame or guilt or almost feeling like a victim is something that I’m very proud of…

Katie Lovitt: I love all of that so much. The same is true for gut issues. People don’t really talk about mouth issues other than like, if they have to get a procedure done or something, but that’s not a part of the dinner conversation, except maybe at your house and my house. The same is true for gut issues. People just think that what they’re experiencing is normal because it’s normal for them and it’s all they’ve ever known, so really helping them to step back, zoom out, understand what that optimal function is and how their bodies were designed and created to work and heal is really a cool perspective shift.

A woman smiles wide with a clean, bright smile in a dentist's mirror, how oral health affects overall health

Shifting Mindsets & Starting Hard Conversations

Jill Ombrello: It is. I think as mom, when I get in my moms circle of friends and we’re talking about summer camps or what our kids are doing, we talk to each other to see if we are having similar experiences… Can we learn from each other?

I remember when my first child and I, her name’s Franny, were at the playground. She’s three years old and all the moms were talking about how their kids pooped once a week. I was like, “Oh, hold on, hold on a second. No, no, no, no, no.” I understand everyone in this circle of five or six women are experiencing that, but it’s common, not normal. And then I got invited to less play dates – I have to be honest – because I always just kind of had that “Whoa, what do you mean?” remark and willingness to have a conversation.

So I just think there’s so much misinformation out there for moms. It’s challenging, because I think as moms we all just want the very best for our kids, and we want them to be the healthiest versions of themselves. I think that’s beautiful, but I think there’s also a lot of pressure on moms to want that for their children. One thing I’d like to shift the conversation and say, “Hey, we also want that for ourselves. We want our children to be healthy, but we want that for moms too!” Like I want to be 120 years old and vibrant and on the floor playing with my great grand kids and full of energy, but I also want them to be healthy. So looking out for ourselves is something we talk about in my office as well.

Katie Lovitt: Yeah, absolutely. I just did an episode on the hot mess mom culture causing hot mess gut issues. I think as women we’re just so fast to carry a heavy burden and be dismissive of issues that maybe we’re dealing with… When if you flipped that and you asked if my child were dealing with this, would I be approaching this in the same way? We would all immediately say no, heck no.

Jill Ombrello: My sweet little six year old, Eloise, is just the light… She’s just the sweetest. So sometimes when I get caught in my head and I’m like, “That wasn’t good enough”, would I ever say those words outside to Eloise? Of course, I wouldn’t. So why would I say that to myself? So yes, this is outside the scope of dentistry. It’s outside of what we’re doing, but when we meet these patients who are looking for solutions to chronic issues, sometimes the conversations go in this way.

I’ll ask, “Why do you think you broke a tooth? Why do you think you have all these systemic health issues?” You’re not a mental patient. I mean, we see some of those too, but most of these patients are chasing symptoms and so confused as to where to start and how to be better. So as a biological dentist, here’s one thing that we can do: We can get some more information and then empower you with that information to be very strategic, persistent, and purposeful about next steps and very slowly get better and better and better. I think our patients respond to that, especially in the culture of so much information that moves very quickly.

Katie Lovitt: Yeah, because we know that our thoughts and our beliefs drive our actions, which ultimately drive our results. So you have to start with the mindset. So tell me how you got into this field. Were the three generations before you biological dentists or biologic dentists? What caused you to go in this direction?

Dr. Jill Ombrello, Central Dentist

Dr. Jill Ombrello’s Story and Core Values

Jill Ombrello: This is one of my favorite questions. So growing up, we were always extremely healthy. We had smoothies every day, and that was before smoothies were a thing. We really trended towards a very outdoor lifestyle. I had a very idyllic childhood where I rode my bike, and I was home when the streetlights came on in our neighborhood and, you know, all the neighbors knew us. So if we did something naughty, they would tell our parents. It was just this village raising children in a small neighborhood. So it was fantastic, but it really came down to my heart surgery in my twenties that really put me on this path.

I did have a congenital birth defect that was fixed surgically incorrectly the first time. So I was in dental school and had an open heart surgery that was botched. I had a year where I was really very sick and the solutions I was given from a very well known doctor who’s number one in all the magazines, he wasn’t listening to me when I said, “Here’s what’s happening… Here’s how I feel…” It was a very cookie cutter approach. I got very, very angry about that. I ended up having a second open heart surgery that resolved it. I am very healthy. I’ve had four beautiful children, but I’ve had other health issues related to that very invasive procedure. So rather than become very angry – I did for a while, don’t get me wrong – I turned that into being very grateful for that experience because it’s made me the type of provider that really listens to my patients.

As I started out in dental practice about 20 years ago, when a filling would fail or if a tooth would crack, I would have to ask questions why, why, why. It’s not because I’m a bad dentist, there’s a root cause there. So it stems from having a medical experience where I didn’t feel like I was listened to, and I don’t feel like I was treated with respect or empowered with additional information. Quite honestly, I didn’t have the skill set to equip myself with that information. That was before Facebook and before the internet and before a lot of this, not as an excuse, but I just wasn’t equipped with that.

So this experience made that a core value of mine to truly listen to the patient. Everyone is different and everybody has different priorities. Hey, if you have a cavity in your tooth, but you’re also doing a parasite cleanse, we’ve got to prioritize. We can’t do everything at once. So that’s really created the core value within myself. And then just really looking to my patients to learn from them and to continue and to be a source of information. I have some really niche information. I love dentistry. I love biological dentistry. So in my free time, that’s what I’m reading about. Use me for this information that I can pass to you to empower and to make the decisions that are right for you and your family. I think patients really appreciate the approach of I’m not a dictator and telling them, but just providing information that align with what their core values are. It’s been fun because patients get healthy and they accept a new reality of what their health could look like. Then they send their other friends and they get healthy too. So what you do is build a community of like-minded people who want to help each other and who want to educate and empower. So it’s just a really beautiful thing.

Every day at work it’s nice to be surrounded by like-minded people who are eager to be the best versions of themselves. So every day it continues to feed that fire and feed that passion. Yes, there are some really sick people out there and there are some people that have been taken advantage of, or that are new to the path and don’t know anything. They’re eating their Cheetos and smoking their cigarette before they come in. And we also treat the people who are much smarter than me when it comes to diet and nutrition and supplementation. So have the privilege of treating all of those patients. It just continues to feed that fire, the healthier people get and the more positively they respond to what we’re offering.

Katie Lovitt: I love it. If y’all have never been to Dr. Jill’s office, she is like a ray of sunshine in her office and she makes everyone feel so special.

Jill Ombrello: It is a happy place, and one of our core values in our office is: it’s fun. We want you to have fun despite being at the dentist. We do have days that we don’t necessarily make the phone call at the exact right time or don’t send the email that we should, but another core value is transparency. I feel like in this day and age, people really respond to even having a difficult conversation of, “Hey, you’re right. We didn’t exceed your expectation. We’re really sorry. How can we make it better moving forward?” And I think people really appreciate that there’s no ego here, that we’re really just here to help.

Sometimes we do a great job and I thank you so much for saying that. I’m glad we’ve done a great job with you. And sometimes we do the best we can, and in those moments, we take feedback and we’re eager to be better as well.

Katie Lovitt: Right. I think we’re all humans and graciousness is really great going both directions.

Jill Ombrello: I will also say too, there’s been one thing that’s been really exciting because I’ve been in practice for about 20 years. Of course things have changed over 20 years with the social economy and political, all of the things, but what’s been really interesting over the last four or five years I haven’t seen previous to that is people’s unwavering commitment to understand their own health and be in charge of their own health and find sources of authority about their health that they really trust that’s not necessarily the doctor in the white coat who used to be the authority. So if you went and saw my grandfather or even my dad in their white coats, you do what they say and you don’t really question it, right? There’s exceptions, but that’s the way it was. Now I don’t even own a white coat! I have a black coat because we’re in this together. Here’s all the information I have, and now we can discuss it together. And having patients that are their own advocates is super challenging, and it forces me to be better every single day. Patients really appreciate that more team minded approach of, “Hey, I’m here to help support you. I’m here for you. How can I serve?” So that’s been a really interesting shift in the last four to five years. People being their own advocates is great. They’re making their own decisions on what’s best for them and their family. So that mutual respect and understanding has been so fun. And I see that commitment to being your own advocate becoming  stronger and stronger as I have the privilege of meeting new patients. And I hope that continues.

Katie Lovitt: Absolutely. I agree. I think people like that who are really invested in advocating for themselves tend to get the best results because they really own up to themselves. They’re not that victim mindset like you were talking about. They’re really holding themselves accountable and responsible for their own health within reason, and understanding that sometimes things do happen that we can’t control, but they think, “What can I control and what can I change and how can I do that?”

I think taking a minute – which is something not very many healthcare providers do, because they don’t have a minute – but taking a minute to really understand what is this client’s goals and how can I meet them where they’re at versus this is what I would do with my family or even worse I see where providers sit there at their desk and prescribe this or that, an elimination diet or a super, super strict diet to follow… It’s so easy to tell somebody to do that, but like, are they going to do it? Is that really even helping somebody if they’re not able to follow through because of where they’re at?

Jill Ombrello: Right. And then being okay with the fact that an elimination diet with a family of six is not reasonable. Okay, great. Here’s our next solution. Here’s the next thing we could do. Yeah. You can still help. I love that.

A young woman brushes her teeth, how oral health affects overall health

How Oral Health Affects Overall Health and Gut Health

Katie Lovitt: Let’s talk a little bit about the oral microbiome. Tell me all the things oral health and how oral health affects overall health . I want to talk dental health, gut health, whole-body health. As you said, the mouth is the gatekeeper where food first enters our body.

It’s so important in my work. I talk mostly about the other end of things, but we do incorporate the oral microbiome. So I’m super curious to hear your hot take on all of it.

Jill Ombrello: Yeah, so with the oral microbiome, people sometimes forget that the first step of digestion is by putting the food in your mouth and then letting that saliva start to digest it.

It drives me crazy when my teenage sons inhale their food, right? You have to chew your food to start digestion. The oral microbiome is basically who lives in your mouth. Who’s in there? There’s good bacteria. There’s bad bacteria. Things can be acidic. Things can be basic. What is that environment? What does that saliva look like? Whatever it is for you, as you swallow, we introduce that into our body.

There were a lot of studies that came out after COVID, which caused an uproar at dental offices, stating that bacteria and periodontal disease or gum disease in your oral microbiome contributes to increased pulmonary infections. So when people were very scared of COVID, they wanted to come get their teeth cleaned to eliminate that and to decrease the chances of having a more severe case of COVID. We also know that the bacteria at a negative microbiome can affect your heart health and your lung health. There’s also studies that show it can contribute to early onset Alzheimer’s and contribute to low birth weight in pregnant women.

So it’s a pretty serious thing. As we take that concept of how important your oral microbiome is, these pharmaceutical companies now prey on that fear, right? You know what you need? You need products to make it better. When in reality, there’s a lot of products out there that actually negatively affect your oral microbiome. Some of these mouthwashes that have a lot of alcohol or some of the blue dyes or red dyes, all of these things that make it look pretty in the bottle, actually make your oral microbiome more acidic.

Think about your tooth like a peanut M&M. We have the layers of candy-coated shell, the chocolate, and the peanut, right? If we have demineralization of that candy-coated shell (aka the enamel of the tooth), that’s something the body can actually heal itself with the right ingredients. Once that demineralization gets into the chocolate of the tooth, it’s a cavity and it needs to be restored. If it gets to the peanut, that’s when we start hearing words like abscess, root canal extraction, et cetera. Back to addressing that candy-coated shell (enamel), we can actually change the oral microbiome of the mouth and have it remineralize and heal to prevent requiring a cavity filling. How great would that be? You come into the office and we evaluate your microbiome through some of your habits, through what we see in the wear of your teeth, and we have an iTero scan, which is a non-radiation picture, basically a fancy camera, that shows your mouth so we can look at patterns.

So patients love the idea that if they use the right products, then they can take control of their oral microbiome. So we talk a lot about that and the products are not fancy. If you think about what’s in the outer layer of that tooth, it’s enamel that’s made of hydroxyapatite. A lot of Western doctors really push fluoride. They think that the tooth will absorb the fluoride and make it stronger, but fluoride is actually not a component of the tooth. So instead, one could use hydroxyapatite, which can be found in mineral based toothpaste. If we use that on a daily basis, when that candy-coated shell gets weak because of a poor oral microbiome, it builds it back up and it populates that spit and your oral microbiome to be healthy and basic. This can help us avoid or reverse demineralization.

The other part is how we breathe. If we breathe through our mouth versus breathing through our nose, we can have a more acidic saliva. That acidic saliva and acidic microbiome can create breakdown of the teeth. So that’s how that’s how breathing affects the mouth.

If we now introduce the bad bacterias or acid into our GI system upon swallowing, that’s going to affect how our whole body digests food and how it absorbs food. Patients that have leaky gut have ulcers, gastric reflux, all types of GI issues. We see the bacteria in the oral microbiome in the mouth is not appropriate. We see how that transfers to the gut. So we have a lot of patients that will come to us with who have done a lot of work on their gut health. They’ve done protocols or they’ve changed their diet, and they’re just missing that last piece of the puzzle, which usually comes from the mouth. Or we have the patients who first address their oral health, but we’re still seeing issues, and then we have to go work on the gut. It’s only when the microbiomes of the gut and of the mouth are positive that they can live in harmony and both are healthy.

That’s how oral health affects overall health and vice versa.

Katie Lovitt: Absolutely. I love that. It just goes back to everything’s connected. Our bodies are systems of systems. You can’t look at any one part of the body in isolation and expect to get 100 percent results. You have to look at all the pieces of the puzzle. And I love that you’re saying the mouth is a piece of the puzzle!

Jill Ombrello: Yeah, I will say too, because people sometimes reach out about products and that’s another thing I’m obsessed with – If you go to my website,, it says “Recommended Products“. You can click on that. It has all these mineral based toothpastes, and you can actually click and read all about it. If you like it, it adds it to your Amazon shopping cart. So it’s pretty easy to look through that, but also to be very thoughtful with it if you’re looking for a specific toothpaste or mouth rinses or those things. There’s some really good ideas. I do change those quite often, because sometimes a company sells out. One of my favorite toothpaste companies just sold out to Procter and Gamble and they actually lowered the pH of the product and put all these additives in it. So I can’t recommend that product anymore for lower pH patients.

Toothpaste on a toothbrush

Gut Health, Oral Health and External Factors, like Sleep

Katie Lovitt: I’m really curious, whenever you see the pH changes in the saliva, do you see a change in those digestive enzymes too, that are helping to break down the carbohydrates mostly in the mouth?

Jill Ombrello: Yes, we do. We recommend patients do pH strip testing – you can get those on Amazon as well – and just test the pH of their saliva throughout the day and, and see when it trends more acidic or more basic and it’s color coded. There’s also a salivary test where you spit into a little cup and it analyzes the microbiome of your mouth, which is ever changing, but that absolutely coincides when we work with their functional providers.

I’ll also tell you when we see a lot of patients who have underdeveloped lower jaws, which potentially pushes their tongue back into their airway, that causes oxygen disruption at night when they sleep. That means their oxygen isn’t completely stable, and when we see interruptions in that, we can also see major issues in their digestive enzymes and their insulin sensitivity because they’re sleeping in a more sympathetic fight or flight mode, trying to normalize that oxygen.

Katie Lovitt: That’s so interesting. I’ve shared on Instagram about my journey with that and how I was mind blown whenever we realized that was happening. If anyone would ask me before we did the sleep study, I would have said, “Oh yeah, I sleep great.” I fall asleep within 15 minutes. I sleep through the night unless one of my kids wakes me up or my old dog. I wake up feeling fine in the morning. Again, it goes back to that conversation around what’s normal for you versus what’s actually optimal. That was how I’d felt my whole life. Whenever I woke up, you know, it was normal. We did that sleep study and found how low my oxygen was dropping. It was like 85 or something several times an hour.

Jill Ombrello: Yeah, it’s pretty significant, but you know, you look at your personality and you’re the type, your glass is half full and you’re going to get up. And even if you don’t feel completely rested, the kids will get breakfast and we’ll go about our day, which is a fantastic part of your personality. We love you for that, but also if we’re truly honest with ourselves, you weren’t getting restorative sleep where you were having proper oxidation all night long. So your body wasn’t necessarily resting and recovering from the beautiful life you lived during the day. It was compensating and kind of pushing through. So you were never taking advantage of the deeper levels of sleep.

Katie Lovitt: I was talking to the friend about it who is a great advocate for her own personal health, and she was like, “That’s so weird you never noticed it before. Did you dream? Like, didn’t you dream?” And I was like, “…Yeah, I did.” But I did not dream like I dream now. I have the most vivid dreams all night long, that I remember when I wake up. It’s crazy how much I dream now versus before, like before I loved that every once in a while I’d have a dream I’d remember.

But again, that was what I thought was normal.

My heart issue, for people who don’t know, is I have a complete heart block where my heart would randomly stop beating, which is not fantastic. It happened after my sister suddenly passed away, when these symptoms started coming on. I just have this gut feeling about it being connected to trauma and a mental emotional trauma there and a “fight or flight” type of response. So I’m actually going to my electrophysiologist in April, and I’m really curious to take a look at my pacemaker recordings, if there’s been any change or reduction in the percentage of time I’m being paced or anything.

Jill Ombrello: Yeah, I can’t wait to hear that. I just remember the first time I met you when you were in my office and how transparent and lovely and factual you were and how much healing you had gone through to be able to talk about it. I really applaud you for being so open about it, because I think you sharing your story will help other people. And even just knowing that when you go something through something horrific – more than horrific – what that can do to your body. And that’s okay because you love so much. And what you can do to recover and get better from that. I just think that’s such an important message that in my circle, I don’t hear that enough. I just adored you from the first time I met you and you shared that story. It’s really incredible.

Katie Lovitt: Thank you. And what you said about, your tough time you went through and using it for good and using it to grow and help others grow and help others be better. I think it was spot on with my mission.

But really interesting with the sleep is what you were saying, the “fight or flight”, right? Where you’re not getting good sleep. So let’s walk through this chain of events here for a second. So if the lower jaw is underdeveloped, which is pretty much a pretty chronic situation here in the U. S., right?

A woman sleeps peacefully in a comfortable looking bed

Understanding Underdeveloped Lower Jaws and How They Affect Overall Health

Jill Ombrello: Yeah. There’s some really brilliant doctors who are researching this every day and what they’re finding is it’s multifactorial. There’s a genetic component, there’s an environmental component, there is a dietary component (bottle fed versus breastfed). There are so many different things that can contribute to the underdevelopment of that lower jaw up until the onset of puberty, which is where it’s really kind of locked in.

Early intervention is key because you can use the natural pressures of the tongue and teeth to expand everything. When we get that full jaw where the tongue can live, then you’re able to take air in through your nose and filter, purify, humidify it, and you have a proper size airway, which is the tube that connects the outside world to the inside world.

If patients or people take air in through their mouths, they force their tonsils and adenoids to filter that air. It’s not their job. There are lymphatic organs. They can help if the system gets overloaded, but it’s not their job to filter everything. I see so many patients who have enlarged tonsils and adenoids or have had repetitive surgeries. Tonsils aren’t like fingers. Like you take a finger off, it’s gone forever. Tonsils are tissue. So if you take out the enlarged tissue, if you don’t fix the root cause or address the root cause, the tonsils can get big again. I just saw a little girl last month, who’s had her tonsils out six times, right? It’s horrible. Now we’re going to address the root cause, which is her mouth breathing and change that. But when we take that air in through the mouth and force the tonsils and adenoids to filter it, and that’s not their job, when it gets to the lungs, it’s not ready for the body. This causes the lungs to have an inflammatory response. That inflammatory response can be a stuffy nose that can be misdiagnosed or mislabeled as allergies or something like that. And we can’t breathe through our mouth or we can’t breathe through our nose because it’s stopped up. Well, now what, now how do we address it?

A lot of times adults will clench or grind their teeth at night, and then they wake up with headaches in the morning because they’ve had this drop in oxygen. They’re clenching and grinding their teeth, not because they’re stressed, but because they’re bringing that lower jaw forward to bring the tongue, which is attached to the jaw, forward to keep it out of the airway. So every time that happens, if there’s a drop in oxygen, our survival instinct to breathe is stronger than anything else. Your body will do whatever it takes. So at night when you’re sleeping, you go from a parasympathetic, which is a rest and digest and repair mode into a cortisol-induced sympathetic fight or flight. That transition from parasympathetic to sympathetic, which driven by that stress hormone, can make your body more inflamed, more acidic, and we lose those deeper levels of restorative sleep, which is where the brain detoxes and where the liver detoxes. It is so important  we take advantage of that during the night, especially with the life we live during the day, where we’re increasingly exposed to more toxins.

We absolutely need to get into that parasympathetic rest and digest mode. A lot of people have those disturbances, and so they just never rest. And if your cortisol is going all night, your adrenals get tired. If you’re needing to burn carbohydrates for quick energy, rather than burning that protein and fat at night, which is long, sustainable energy. If we’re burning those carbs, your insulin kind of gives up on you. They’re like, “What do you want from me? I digested your food all day long. Should I send more of the food all day, because we’re going to need it at night? Should we crave sugar and salt all day? Because we know we need this energy at night.” And then the insulin just says, “Whatever. I’m insensitive to this whole situation. So I’m done.” So patients who have really tried to lose weight or their diets are in line and they’re not seeing the scale go in the way that they’d like, or their body composition change: This sleep component is a really big part of it, because their insulin is most likely giving up on them. Even though they’re doing everything right during the day, at night their body’s just trying to keep that oxygen. So it’s having to compensate.

A women sits up in bed with her hand resting on her forehead as if she has a headache

Understanding the Gut-Brain Connection

Katie Lovitt: I think that’s such good information. And then taking it one step further from what you were saying about you’re not sleeping well at night, you’re going into fight or flight… Guess where the vagus nerve is housed? It’s in the same part of your brain where the fight or flight response is housed. So the vagus nerve is maybe my favorite thing about the human body when it comes to gut health. The vagus nerve goes from your brain and extends down into your abdomen, and it has all these intersection points with your heart, with your lungs, with your digestive tract. When we’re talking about gut health specifically, the vagus nerve is what’s controlling gut motility. So if you’re struggling with recurring SIBO, part of the issue is that the vagus nerve is not working properly. If you’re dealing with constipation or diarrhea, the vagus nerve not working properly is part of the issue. It can lead to all kinds of microbiome issues also. So you’re seeing how it can come from multiple places, and that’s why you can’t just take one single supplement or do a certain elimination diet and fix all these issues. They’re way more complex than that, and there’s a lot more moving parts. So if you’re not sleeping well at night, because your airway isn’t open at night, it can really lead to gut issues with motility stuff too, and you’re creating a more acidic mouth environment, which Dr. Jill just said impacts our microbiome as well.

Jill Ombrello: It is fascinating, and sometimes I wish there was a magic pill. Don’t you? Take this one thing and everything will be good. But you know, one thing that I think a biological dentist does, and I pride myself in doing is focusing on where we can start to get the biggest bang for our effort. What can we attack first to really do that? A lot of times it is diet, making sure we’re eating low inflammatory foods and cutting down on processed foods. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. Sometimes it is behavior modifications, such as putting the phone down or not watching TV right before bed, right? Or even if could be finding joy in your life, like listening to Beyoncé on the way home from work, if that’s what you need to do. So just finding actionable steps that help move the gauge and the direction of health forward is what people are looking for.

We’re not actually reinventing the wheel. We’re just putting the body in a place to function the way it’s supposed to. And once it functions the way it’s supposed to, hopefully you won’t need intervention anymore. Your body will just be healthy and happy and you can pay attention to those things. This isn’t pharmaceuticals. This isn’t something someone invented in a lab or brought out of thin air. This is just restoring factory settings to get you back to where your body wants to be – each component at a time. Thinking about it that way, in my experience, I’ve found that patients are a little less overwhelmed with the multitude of areas that we could focus on to get that ideal health.

Katie Lovitt:  I think that’s a really great, great perspective. And, you know, going back to the magic pill, growth through struggles and through trials is so powerful because if all you did was take a pill to set everything right again, you would miss out on learning so many things about what your body does need to thrive and to get set back on a course towards healing and stay there. Instead you’d be having to take pills all the time, right?

Jill Ombrello: I’m reading a book right now that talks about how your mind is way stronger than you think it is. I have three teenagers right now, so I really need a strong mind. So I’ve started cryotherapy and doing cold plunges because yes, it’s very cold, but realizing that with the difficulty of the cold water, how strong my mind is. I don’t have to have a sympathetic reaction. I can be the anti force against the force of the cold water. So I think what you just said is so brilliant, because through these trials, we do become stronger and we realize how amazing our bodies are and how they can heal themselves. That’s really empowering, because you don’t need anybody for that. You just need yourself. And that’s really exciting.

Katie Lovitt: Wow, it is. You’re not having to find the next expert to tell you what to do, you know for yourself.

Jill Ombrello: We don’t want our patients to be dependent on us. We want them to use us for the information that they need and then move on to the next stage that gets them better health.

I think that philosophy that you and I share is unique when you’re talking about healthcare providers. Patients really resonate with, “Oh, you don’t want me to come every two months for the rest of my life?” No, I mean, you can come by and say hi, but like, I don’t want to have to treat you.

A father and son both floss their teeth together, how oral health affects overall health

Where to Start When it Comes to How Oral Health Affects Overall Health

Katie Lovitt: Absolutely. Oh, I love that so much. So if somebody were to start out on this path of like, “Hey, I’m really interested in this, but this is something new and different that I haven’t ever thought about before.” Where would you have them start? What would you have them do first?

Jill Ombrello: So it’s really just being honest and sitting down and not having your glass half full and asking yourself, “How do I really feel?” Age isn’t necessarily a number. It’s energy. So what is my energy? What is my digestion like? Really look at it through that lens and create a list of the current state of affairs. Kind of rating yourself on a scale of one to 10. I’m not to be harsh with myself, but just to have a check in.

When we have patients who come in with various levels of guilt or shame or confusion about their teeth or even fear or anxiety, we like to sit down and really have that conversation with them. So if the mouth is where you’d like to start, I would welcome people into my practice, Central Dentist. Remember, while I have a lot of solutions and a lot of information, I’m not the gatekeeper. I don’t have the end-all of everything, but what I’m really proud of is the team of like-minded providers that I’ve had the absolute privilege of meeting and working with.

So when we don’t have the solution here in my office we will recommend another great person to work with or someone to give you more insight into what you’re looking for.

I’d also find somebody on Instagram to follow who is like minded and you like the content, you like how they’re living their life. There’s someone on Instagram who I just adore and she lives in a Puerto Rican jungle, and she homeschools her kids, and they’re barefooted all the time. I love that, but I’m not doing that. I’m driving carpool in Dallas and wearing shoes, right? And no judgement, I think that’s amazing she’s doing it, but it doesn’t work for me. So finding someone who kind of resonates with what you would like to do and what works with your family in an effort to get more information.

Then also the simplest and the hardest thing is just be grateful. Take moments for gratitude to thank your body for being so strong and to thank yourself for listening to fantastic podcasts, like The Nourished & Thriving Show, in an effort to get more information to learn more. And so really just coming from a position of gratitude, I think is the absolute best thing that people can do, um, to start off.

Katie Lovitt: It all goes back to the mindset and the heartset, right? Thank you so much for your time in explaining how oral health affects overall health. It’s just so apparent how much you love people. You love doing what you do. You love inspiring and empowering other people. So I really appreciate you being here. Thank you.

Jill Ombrello: You are one of those people that I would follow. You’re a brilliant mother. You’re so smart. Your children are fantastic. I have so much respect for you. So thank you so much for, for inviting me on and giving me an opportunity for us to chat. I think the first time I met you, I said, we should go to lunch and be best friends. So this is another step in my path to becoming best friends. So thank you so much for this opportunity. It sincerely means so much.

Katie Lovitt: Yes, absolutely. Thank you so much.

I hope you are feeling inspired and empowered to take bold action towards your health goals.

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