The old verse, “the hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone…the thigh bone’s connected to the knee bone…the knee bone’s connected to the shin bone…” has significance beyond the skeleton. In your mouth, the gums are connected to more than just the teeth!
Research and Risk Factors
Holistic health professionals have long believed there is a whole body connection. Fortunately, the traditional medical community is now recognizing the link between poor health in gums (aka: periodontal disease) and major systemic diseases such as: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease, cancers, arthritis, prostatitis and low birth weights in infants. Research studies will continue to be ongoing in an effort to make conclusive claims, however over the last ten years, the evidence is building. Here are a few of the reports:
- According to The American Academy of Periodontology (AAP), patients with periodontal disease have a 1.5 – 2.0 times greater risk of incurring a cardiovascular disease. “Importantly, dental infections appear to increase the risk of coronary artery disease to a degree similar to the classical risk factors for cardiovascular disease including age, smoking, diabetes, hypertension and elevated serum triglycerides.”
- Diabetics are more susceptible to contracting infections, which is the likely reason they are more apt to have periodontal disease than those without diabetes. “…periodontal disease is often considered the sixth complication of diabetes,” claims the AAP.
- 16 million Americans suffer from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) -chronic bronchitis or emphysema – and it is the sixth leading cause of mortality in the United States. Lead researcher of a study published in January 2001 Journal of Periodontology, F. Scannapieco, D.M.D., found that patients with periodontal disease have a 1.5 times greater risk of COPD.
- A huge long term study in October 2010 at Huddinge, Sweden showed that periodontal disease is statistically associated with breast cancer in women.
Not only is there an indirect link between periodontal disease and systemic diseases, but periodontal disease is infectious or communicable and can be passed between family members.
Bacteria Found In Your Mouth
The reasons that periodontal disease is a risk factor to these major systemic diseases are BACTERIA. There are over 700 different species of bacteria in the mouth. There is no other place in or on the body that houses this diversity of bacteria.
Not all bacteria are bad, however. The periodontal bacteria that are mostly pathological are anaerobic – that is, live in the absence of air. Good bacteria that our bodies benefit from are usually aerobic – live off and reproduce in air.
So how do the bacteria that live in the absence of air survive? They not only survive, but reproduce at alarming rates in warm, dark, acidic and carbohydrate-rich environments – between teeth and under gums. The excrement from the anaerobic bacteria forms a sticky water resistant shield around the tooth, called plaque.
Bacteria Lead To Dental Problems
Dental decay, periodontal disease, and gingivitis are all caused by the anaerobic bacteria which live in the mouth.
- Dental decay is actually caused by the acidic excrement from the bacteria. The tooth is literally being dissolved by chronically being bathed in this acid.
- Gingivitis is the inflammation of the gums caused by your own body trying to fight off the invasion of the bacteria.
- Periodontal disease (perio = around, and dontal = tooth) is the loss of bone and tissue attachment around the tooth. It is caused by a microbial invasion around the tooth by anaerobic bacteria.
Signs of periodontal disease are: bad breath that won’t go away, red or swollen gums, tender or bleeding gums, painful chewing, loose teeth, sensitive teeth.
Attacking The Root Cause Of The Problem
To prevent dental problems and decrease the risk factors for the major systemic diseases, you need to reduce the anaerobic bacteria population (plaque) in the mouth. In order to do that you must:
- break through the sticky plaque shield with an abrasive
- aerate between teeth
- neutralize the acid in the mouth
Professional cleanings at a dentist office every six months, brushing teeth twice a day and flossing once a day are recommended as prevention against periodontal disease. Because it is a laborious task to floss, most people don’t. And oral irrigators can’t cut through plaque’s sticky biofilm. If you have crowns, bridges, implants and orthodontic appliances you have the additional cracks and crevices for bacteria to accumulate and where a toothbrush has trouble accessing. Studies are pointing to the need for three month cleanings for women over 35 years old and anyone with a systemic disease which has been linked to periodontal disease.
Today, there are numerous devices to keep your mouth clean: electric toothbrushes, oral irrigators, tongue scrapers, oral disinfectants and a device, Dental Air Force that combines brushing, flossing and aerates the sites between teeth. Even with more tools available to keep teeth and gums healthier than in the past, 80% of all adults have some form of periodontal disease. The longevity of your teeth is directly related to the thoroughness and frequency of removing the bacteria causing plaque. So whatever method of teeth cleaning you use, be thorough and diligent. Oral health is critical to total health. The gums ARE connected to your entire body.
Dr. Piero, a practicing dentist for over twenty five years, is the inventor of Dental Air Force® (www.dentalairforce.com). He is the Executive Editor for Journal of Experimental Dental Science due to be published in July 2012 and a contributing author to Hospital Infection Control: Clinical Guidelines.
1 Periodontal Disease as a Potential Risk Factor for Systemic Diseases, Research, Science and Therapy Committee of The American Academy of Periodontology, Journal of Periodontology 1998;69:841-850
2 Diabetes, The Mouth-Body Connection, The American Academy of Periodontology. (http://www.perio.org/consumer/mbc.diabetes.htm)
3 Link Between Periodontal Disease, Lung Disease Suggested, The American Academy of Periodontology, Journal of Periodontology, January 2001. (http://www.joponline.org/doi/abs/10.1902/jop.2001.72.1.50 )
4 Periodontal disease may associate with breast cancer, Breast Cancer Research Treatment, 2011 Jun;127(2):497-502. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20960226 )