Dr. Uche Odiatu, Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) and Certified Personal Trainer, is an author of The Miracle of Health, renowned speaker, and internationally recognized wellness expert. With a passion for health, fitness, and nutrition that permeates every aspect of his life and career, Dr. Odiatu is an inspiration as a truly holistic healthcare practitioner.
We talked with Dr. Odiatu about the connections between oral health, the microbiome, nutrition, and physical fitness, and how practitioners can work with their patients to help them live their healthiest lives.
1. What was going on in your life when you made the connection between oral health, physical fitness, nutrition, and mental/emotional health?
Great question. I enjoy looking at things and seeing the connection between them. It just makes intuitive sense to see everything as connected, much like Entanglement Theory.
Our parents raised us to see food as more than just serving calories or energy. My mom gave us cod liver oil and told us it was for our brains. Our dad brought us downstairs one morning when we were around 10 years of age and said we needed to learn yoga to make our bodies more flexible. It fueled my desire to learn more about fitness and health, from working out in our basement with a plastic set of YORK dumbbells to wanting to get a BA in psychology to learn about what made me tick.
Dental school was very focused—and it has to be. But I enjoyed sharing nutritional information and personal empowerment information with patients. I saw one subtle new behavior could have major changes 3, 6, or 12 months down the road.
Writing articles followed, and then an invitation to lecture on whole body health. Being certified as a personal trainer in three different organizations gave me access to the latest journals on exercise science, physiology, and nutrition. I really enjoy taking continuing education (CE) classes and in my dental professional development, I loved seeing how whole body health played a role in the prognosis of treatments.
2. How have your background and experience shaped how you interact with your patients and the oral healthcare practices that you recommend?
I enjoy the chair-side conservation. I enjoy looking into the medical history and seeing the connection between people’s stress management strategies and how—when they don't work completely—it plays out in the mouth.
Dentists are very curious by nature and we always take a great history on new patients and update it at each appointment. But looking at someone's water intake, how much fast food they eat, their vegetable intake, and whether they exercise or not, was something I was keen to know more about. For instance, poor sleepers make for poor healing. With one third of the adult population on shift work or rotating shifts, this means one in three patients might not heal as predictably with the same treatments as people who sleep 7-9 hours a night. People with dry mouth (studies show dry mouth is a side effect of up to half of all OTC meds and prescription meds—we learn this in our pharmacology courses) are not only more susceptible to specific kinds of dental issues, but they also don't chew their food as well as people who have adequate saliva flow.
This expanded perspective led me to predict that they might also not absorb the same nutrients, even when enjoying the same diet as someone else in their home. Does this lead to less vitality and ability to repair and grow, and is this part of the aging process? Patients appreciate when their healthcare providers bring an integrated viewpoint to patient care.
3. What is your understanding of the human microbiome, and how does microbial health fit into the way you approach oral health and nutrition?
I have been lecturing on this fascinating subject the last seven months, and I am voraciously reading as many books as I can on the microbiome. The first phase of the Human Microbiome Project came out in 2012 and the information and findings seem to be sharing the foundation of what we understand about nutrition and the way people heal.
There are only 30 human-produced enzymes that digest our food—which sounds like a lot until you read that the experts now know there are 6,000 enzymes of bacterial origin. Technically, we eat to feed our beneficial bacteria. And when our friendly flora get the fiber they want (25g a day for women and 38g for men) they are able to make hundreds of compounds that help us stay alive.
4. Talk to us about the inflammatory consequences of eating the wrong foods and the damage this can cause. How exactly does nutrition impact oral health and what does this mean for the body, particularly for athletes?
There is irrefutable scientific evidence that shows that what we eat (from the micronutrients to the macronutrients) either ramps up inflammation or turns it down.
Every meal either helps heal and repair or does damage. This is mind-blowing.
Many dentists and hygienists may feel nutrition is outside their scope of practice—however, we take 20 plus hours of nutrition education in college and our ongoing CE is filled with courses on nutrition and it is well within our scope of practice to share with patients. What is good for the oral cavity is also good for the rest of the body—the brain, the heart, the lungs, and the immune system. We are the industry that takes care of the gateway to people's nutrient intake.
The recent reports from gastroenterologists say the number one way you can support the microbiome—which is being thought of as an organ due to its powerful influence on the optimal functioning of the body—is by eating, drinking, and feeding the body (especially our 80 trillion single celled fellow travellers inside us). We are the professionals highly trained to keep people's teeth and supporting structures (tongue, jaw, and salivary glands) working in proper order.
When people don't eat, chew, or swallow well, it is a challenge for them to stay healthy and age well.
5. What are some of your favorite ways to incorporate important nutrients into your diet?
I have been eating healthy all of my life. Of course, there are times when I choose non-optimal food, BUT I like to tell my patients that it's more important what they eat each and every day vs. what they indulge in every now and then.
The bacteria in our guts are very ephemeral; 30-50% of the dry weight of bowel movements are made up of our gut flora. We are constantly replenishing them with our daily meals, but new information on intermittent fasting and caloric restriction is producing interesting insights into the fact that our guts love a break from the constant meals and some key species work best when we are empty and possibly fasting.
This is not the best news for us North Americans who love to eat, but it makes it possible to see the benefits of stopping eating a few hours before bed and then not eating right away first thing in the morning. This overnight fast allows the migrating motor complex to work more efficiently—this is the 45-180 minute peristaltic action that rhythmically moves from mouth to anus and helps move things along (ideally done at night—helping to move bacteria out of the small intestine and toward to the large intestine where most of the gut bacteria like to reside and work their magic).
I take vitamin D in the winter from November to March. I love a daily high quality fish oil supplement. I eat 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Our family sees our grocery spending as an investment rather than as an expense because we quite literally can become what we eat. My wife and I have four children from 2 to 11 years of age, and if we are investing in the best education possible, why not the best nutrition to give them the best fuel for repair, growth, and recovery? And of course probiotics are on our schedule. My wife and I are huge believers in regular physical activity so when we studied the benefits of probiotics for optimal functioning of the GI tract and the immune system, it only made sense for us.
We also wrote a book together: The Miracle of Health, published by John Wiley in 2008 in hardcover and then HarperCollins made it available for download in 2014. It was a labor of love. It focuses on developing the fitness mindset vs. detailed diet plans and recipes. It was designed to help the reader experience a shift in perception in how they look at their bodies, the way they move, and what they eat.
I love the author Wayne Dyer's quote: “If you change the way you look at something—the very thing you are looking at will change." One of my ardent goals is to have my audiences, readers, and patients experience a shift in how they see their body, their health, what they eat, and how they eat. And miracles can take place when a positive shift happens—when they see food as fuel for their cells (bacterial and human), or view regular exercise as a way to help perfuse oxygen through their 100 billion neutrons.
6. What are some of the simplest, most beneficial ways to stay physically fit?
Whenever I lecture, I ask my busy colleagues, “Who has lots of time for workouts?” No one has ever put up their hand in 12 years! Well, except for one dentist when I was recently lecturing in Maui...
But busy people have little time for exercise and it's the number one reason why people don’t do it regularly. The new science on interval training makes for a very efficient way to boost cardiorespiratory fitness, or CRF. I have read of inactive people doubling their time to exhaustion in as little as 6 workouts over two weeks using HIIT—high intensity interval training.
I also do hot yoga 2-3 times a week for flexibility and balance, two important components of a complete exercise plan. And of course my favorite: resistance training. Again, I am never in the gym (my own at home or the large commercial one we belong to 5 minutes away) more than 60 minutes, as I believe with any training over 60 minutes, the intensity isn’t there and I am more likely making friends than working out.
7. What advice do you have for other physicians and dentists seeking to educate their patients about the benefits of nutrition and a healthy lifestyle (sleep, fitness, mental health, etc.)?
Well this is a complicated question, as I have five separate three hour lectures on this subject. But I tell them to get curious about nutrition, take courses on whole body health, and ultimately get in the best physical shape themselves so they can be role models for their teams and the patients.
I firmly believe we can’t take patients on a journey that we haven't ourselves been on, so this is where trickle down motivation factors in. Patients appear to enjoy enthusiastic healthcare providers. When we are living healthy lives—sleeping 7-9 hours a night, eating whole foods, staying hydrated, managing stress, and taking the best supplements—our chair-side conversations are even more authentic. Yes, having eyes that sparkle, a healthy back, a firm handshake, fresh breath, and a strong core comes across well for anyone.
We thank Dr. Odiatu for taking the time to share his expertise with us. Please visit his website at http://www.druche.com/ for more information!