I’ve read that my gum health can influence my general health. Plus, I’ve just read an article that mouth bacteria can cause heart disease – is this true?
The short answer is “definitely and maybe”. It takes many years of experiments and observations to “prove” a new medical philosophy, but all signs point to yes. Mouth bacteria is a factor, but not the whole reason for several systemic diseases. More diseases are being evaluated every day.
This is not a one to one relationship; so let me explain a little of the current thinking:
If your gums are inflamed (swollen), or you smoke, your mouth becomes a convenient portal for bacteria to get into the blood stream. Your body fights the germs by starting an inflammatory process – this causes collateral damage to the blood vessels and more.
If this is an occasional thing, it’s probably not an issue. But, let’s say that your body is fighting these germs all day long because there are too many of them, or they are not cleaned off, or your immune system is inhibited (ie. by smoking). Then your body/immune system is always on alert and the chances for damage are greater.
Gum Disease Leads to:
- Gum Disease in a pregnant woman can lead to low birth-weight and premature babies
- Gum Disease can cause diabetes to be poorly controlled
- Gun Disease can make lung disease (like COPD, pneumonia and bronchitis) worse because of bacteria that is inhaled into the lungs
- And there are many more potential influences being studied every day.
Let’s say you are missing a fair number of teeth or have dentures. Most likely you will gravitate towards easier-to-chew foods with a higher fat content because they are easier to chew and swallow. (You will probably avoid salads and nuts.)
Let’s say you have a chronic tooth infection/abscess. This is feeding into your body and causing it to be in a constant state of inflammatory alert! Again, the inflammation causes collateral damage to your blood vessels and organs. Yikes!
Confusing the Immune System
One more theory is circulating and there is a lot of proof that this is part of the puzzle. Let’s say that your immune system is constantly being bombarded by bacteria, viruses and fragments of these beasties. Some of their cell material resembles our own cells.
A good example is the strep bacteria – it looks a lot like joint cartilage. It’s possible (and likely) that the body then gets tricked. The next time your immune system runs into something that resembles the strep bacteria (in other words your joint tissue), it tries to attack it and eat it up! Can you say arthritis???? This is a likely contributor to arthritis and many other “auto-immune” disorders.
In Part 2, I’ll discuss an interesting case of gum bacteria causing systemic disease.
Disclaimer: The information contained on Dr. Liftig’s website is meant to provide general information about dentistry. The information contained within this website is not intended to provide medical or dental advice, and should not be used as a substitute for medical and dental advice. Consult your dentist or physician for your specific condition. Dr. Liftig accepts no liability for the information provided pertaining to treatment.