When it comes to preventing disease and staying fit, think of your mouth.
When it comes to preventing disease and staying fit, think of your mouth.
When it comes to maintaining good health, it's mostly about the mouth.  

That's the notion of Dr. Warren Griffith, a rural family physician for PeaceHealth in Springfield.

"The mouth is the pathway to health," says Dr. Griffith, citing unhealthy food, tobacco and alcohol as key offenders of fitness. Even dental decay can cause bacteria to enter the bloodstream and effect heart health.  

Dr. Griffith recalls his nun teachers at grade school making much of what came out of his mouth — paying special heed to incorrect or foul language. Now, he is paying attention to what people put in their mouths and how they care for their oral cavities.
Laziness and uncontrolled appetites are becoming epidemics, he explains.

"Society has an entitlement mentality broadly," Dr. Griffith speculates, saying that moderation with healthy foods is the best way to a fit life. "People think immediate gratification."

He admits that a pound of broccoli, a piece of chicken and a salad costs more than a couple hamburgers. But he urges long-term thinking.

With all the information out there, he figured young people would know better. It turns out they don't. He treats an alarming number of obese youths. He is not excited that marijuana is likely to become legal in Oregon in the coming years.

Heavy pot users tend to neglect their health, famously their oral hygiene, he says.

Dr. Robert Gluckman, chief medical officer of Providence Health Plans in Portland, says preventive care aims to avoid disease or find it early on. That's why he focuses on managing weight, stopping tobacco use, nixing drug and alcohol use, encouraging exercise and health screening. There are tests for cancer, hypertension, diabetes and cholesterol disorders, to name a few.

Disease prevention does not reside only in the medical establishment. Dr. Gluckman says employers have a role to play, perhaps offering onsite athletic facilities and healthier foods in the cafeteria.

Preventive care has varied success. Tobacco use has dropped and exercise increase, but obesity is still a problem, especially in the U.S.  

Technology may help. Motivated patients can receive an electronic monitor that gauges activity. But weight loss still takes personal commitment and wise graduated strategies, like changing one behavior at a time, perhaps giving up sweetened drinks one month and chips the next.

Dr. Gluckman says not all disease can be held at bay.     

"We still have genetics and our environment," he says.