Almost 100 years ago, dentists believed infection from an abscessed tooth would travel to the weakest part of the body.  Early in my career, I had a patient with horribly infected teeth and could hardly walk because his knees were so stiff and swollen.  The dentist I worked for at the time told me that once I got all the bad teeth out and dentures in place, the knee problem would probably go away.  He was right; the knees were infected from the infection in the mouth.  Severe diabetics usually need to reduce their insulin requirements when infected teeth are removed.  I am relating this to you because I repeatedly see strong clinical ties to overall health to a healthy mouth.

Now, a 100 years later, science is backing up this belief.  No one really wants to read boring science so the public still remains in the dark as to how serious the health of the mouth is.  When you add the fact that no one wants to go to the dentist anyway it is easy to understand why nothing gets done.

My goal for this blog is to take the latest scientific study on the mouth/body connection and put it in layman terms.  This particular scientific article is titled “Subgingival Microbiota and Chronic Periodontal Disease:  Culpability in Causation of Systemic Pathologies.”  Yes, that is what I thought too; boring!

This is what teeth and gums look like with plaque or biofilm not cleaned off properly.

This is what teeth and gums look like with plaque or biofilm not cleaned off properly.

In a previous blog, I talked about biofilm, AKA dental plaque.  Let me give you a more dramatic description to how ugly, gross and dangerous it is.  Bad bacteria start forming on the rough surfaces of the roots of teeth.  They start to colonize and begin to link up like soldiers in an army.  Like any living organisms they need to eat and elliminate waste products.  Yes, they have to get food and get rid of the bug poop.  To do this, they start a wave action much like the wave you see people do in sports stadiums. The wave creates circulation within the biofilm.  And yes, these bugs have intelligence and can communicate which is scary.  All of this can be seen on a phase contrast microscope with any patient who looks like the photo above.

The biofilm, the bugs and especially the bug poop creates a terrific assault on the gum tissue.  The body brings in its immune system soldiers to fight back and fight it does.  It fights so much that the tissue is destroyed and once the tissue is destroyed, as can be seen in the photo, it is open to invasion into the blood stream.  The walls of the castle have been broken down!

Not that hard to understand is it?  Here is what can happen next:

Cardiovascular system

When an artery is clogged, it’s over for anything down stream whether it is the brain or heart.  It is only common sense to keep your plumbing clean to allow healthy, oxygenated blood do its thing.  Clogged arteries do not occur overnight.  The weakening of the artery starts with a complicated inflammatory event that researcher have been trying to figure out and agree on for many decades.

All studies say mouth bacteria are “associated” with a clogged artery but they all say bacteria from the mouth is found in the clogged plaque of a heart attack victim.  I say it only makes sense to have an infection-free mouth.

Respiratory system

Bad bacteria from an infected mouth have a direct access to the lungs from the simple act of breathing. The lungs get a double whammy when the same pathogenic bacteria assault them via the blood system.  This is especially true for the geriatric patient or patients with compromised immune systems.

Musculoskeletal system

Rheumatoid arthritis is a complicated infection/immune response to the joints of the body. There is no proof that gum disease will cause RA but according to the article, and I know this to be true from experience with my patients, a remarkable similarity exists in the bacteria of an infected mouth and rheumatoid arthritis.  And there is a positive correlation between bone loss in the mouth and the rest of the body.

Reproductive system

You can do a internet search on premature labor and premature/low birth-weight babies and find tons of information.  Bacteria in the blood mean bacteria in the placenta.  Do we need to scientifically prove this when it only makes sense?

By the way, if bad bacteria create circulation problems, it can also be associated with Erectile Dysfunction! Hmm…

Endocrine system

Forget the word endocrine and think of diabetes!  There is NO question that periodontal disease makes diabetes worse and that diabetes makes gum disease worse.  If you are diabetic you must, absolutely must have a perfectly clean mouth and only a qualified dentist/hygienist team can help you achieve this.

Malignancies

This is so important and easy to understand,  I am citing the exact words of the report:

CP is an independent clinical high-risk profile for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), especially in the oral cavity, followed by the oropharynx and larynx.[46,47] A significant association has been found between the history of periodontitis and risk of developing lung, kidney, pancreas, and hematological malignancies.[48] These associations have been validated in a number of studies, after adjustment for major risk factors, including cigarette smoking and socioeconomic status.[49] The risk is most substantive for oral and esophageal cancers and is followed by that for gastric and pancreatic cancers.[50,51] The possible mechanism that links periodontitis and malignancy is still not clear, though lifetime cumulative infection exposure may play a major role.[52]

Bottom line is that gum and bone disease is a systemic disease.  MDs are not trained and cannot help you in any way except to get you to a qualified dentist/hygienist.  We are the only ones that can help you control the disease for a life time and yes, we know how to do that.  So if you have ANY bleeding gums, on brushing, flossing or tooth pick, you have gum disease.  For your own overall health, pick up the phone and call your dentist.  The dental profession truly cares about your health and well being.

Dr. Andrea Stevens is a cosmetic and family dentist in practice in Kanata, Ontario. If you have dental questions, you can call her at 613-271-7091 or visit her at kanatacosmeticdentist.com Please also feel free to leave comments or questions below, and Dr. Stevens will be happy to answer!