The more that the interaction between the mouth and the body is studied, the more that we see that they are intimately connected. It's not too much of a stretch to say, "healthy mouth, healthy body." And if you think about it, it makes sense. The mouth is the most prominent entrance through which our body interacts with the outside world.
To help us understand how the health of our mouth directly influences the health of our body, let's take a look at the adverse health effects that are proven by research to be directly related to gum disease.
But before we do that, let's discuss precisely what gum disease is. When the bacteria at and below the gumline do not get adequately removed with brushing and flossing, it consumes the food that we eat and excrete waste. This waste gets trapped below the gums, causing the tiny capillary blood vessels in the gums to dilate, which results in inflamed gums. And even though these dilated capillaries are small to you and me, they are enormous highways for bacteria to enter our bloodstream. Once they hit the bloodstream, these harmful bacteria can travel to every corner of the body. With that background, let's take a close look at some of the adverse health effects that have been proven to be related to gum disease.
People with gum disease are two to three times more likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event. The harmful oral bacteria that entered the bloodstream courtesy of gum disease can contribute to the plaque that builds up on arterial walls in and near the heart. These plaques can either narrow the blood vessels or break free and clog the vessels, both of which can cause heart attack or stroke. Also, people with heart valve disease are particularly susceptible to infection or cardiovascular events as harmful oral bacteria can enter the heart and directly infect the vulnerable heart valves.
Alzheimer's and dementia
When your tissue is inflamed due to gum disease, the bacteria P. gingivalis can enter the bloodstream and it has the unique ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, which is usually designed to keep toxic substances from traveling from the blood into the brain. Once in the brain, the P. gingivalis releases enzymes called gingipains that can destroy nerve cells, leading to memory loss and eventually Alzheimer's. A recent study examined the brains of 53 deceased people with Alzheimer's and found that almost every brain had elevated levels of gingipain. The research also shows that oral health and Alzheimer's decline at corresponding rates as patients forget to brush or how to brush and become increasingly resistant to assistance with their oral home care.
Pre-term birth and low birth weight
Research suggests that the bacteria that cause inflammation in gum tissue can enter the bloodstream and target an unborn fetus, which potentially can cause pre-term labor and/or low birth weight. This is especially concerning because various types of periodontal treatments are not advised while a woman is pregnant. The anesthetic traditionally used and the stirring up of certain bacteria can put the mother and baby at increased risk for complications. For all of these reasons, pregnant women must increase the quality and frequency of their dental home care efforts.
Complications with diabetes
Gum disease and diabetes each make the other worse. Diabetes that is not well-controlled can lead to higher blood sugar levels in the fluids of the mouth, which promotes the growth of bacteria that cause cavities and gum disease. On the other hand, gum disease may also make it harder for people with diabetes to control their blood sugar, which can lead to diabetic complications.
Strained Immune System
The purpose of the immune system is to target and kill any bacteria that invade the body. The overabundance of bacteria caused by gum disease both in the mouth and in other parts of the body puts a significant strain on your body's immune response. If the resources of the immune system are focused on the mouth, it puts the rest of the body at increased risk for infection from invading bacteria. If you have underlying health conditions, this process only becomes more concerning.
Increased Risk for Lung Disease
Several respiratory diseases are linked to gum disease: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, pneumonia, and bronchitis are just a few. The oral bacteria present in gum disease can infect the lungs in two ways. The patient may directly aspirate the bacteria into the airway that leads to the lungs. The other pathway involves the bacteria entering the bloodstream via dilated capillaries in the inflamed gum tissue. Either path has a similar result: a bacterial infection that the body's immune system has to fight.
Here at Slate Dental, we are so excited that our customers are flossing better and more often than ever. Using the Slate Electric Flosser will go a long way to help prevent the adverse health effects listed above. Try it out, and let us know what you think.