Your Mouth Matters

Barbara Tritz
· November 10, 2014 ·

4 minutes

In September, I attended the American Association of Oral Systemic Health (AAOSH) Scientific Session in St. Louis, MO.   AAOSH is dedicated to the oral-systemic connection– gum disease and tooth decay infect not only your mouth, but your entire body.  For too long, dentistry has been looked at as less important than the medical community.  Just drill it out or yank that tooth, it did not matter.
Research is coming fast and furious to declare that is no longer correct.  The health of your mouth really does matter to the rest of your body.  If your mouth is infected, you are not healthy.  Today’s post will review all the many, many connections I learned about at the meeting.  Hold on to your hats- there’s so much!

Don’t let them move in!

#1. Heart Disease, Strokes: I’ve already discussed this connection at length in my post When You Let Plaque Attack so I won’t  go into detail here.  Just know that the bacteria and other pathogens from both tooth decay and gum disease infect your arteries, causing the plaque there to be inflamed, and causing the artery to rupture.  Then a clot forms.  Researchers found oral bacteria in 100% of the clots in their study.  When this clot is dislodged into the blood stream, it can travel to the heart or brain where it causes a heart attack or stroke, respectively.  So the bottom line here- if there’s inflammation in your mouth, there is inflammation in your arteries.  

#2. Preterm Babies,  Low Birth Weight Babies and Still Birth:  Dr. Yiping Han, a researcher at Columbia University, is investigating the connection between Fusobacterium Nucleatum (a bacteria) and child birth – still birth, preterm birth and low birth weight babies.  She has shown there is a definite correlation.  F. nucleatum is a key component in oral plaque formation associated with periodontal disease, but it is not common elsewhere in the body.  It is the most prevalent species associated with preterm birth.  Pregnancy gingivitis affects many pregnant women and those with the disease are seven times more likely to go into preterm labor, pre-eclampsia, and have low birth weight babies.  Oral infections are a major contributor to preterm/low birth weight deliveries.  Gingivitis is the first stage of periodontal disease and is often painless so most moms don’t know they have it.  Even this mild infection (gingivitis is an infection but periodontal disease is a disease) is capable of causing severe problems in pregnant women.  Dr. Han has documented the first case of stillbirth connected to gum disease!  Taking preventive measures before getting pregnant is so important.  Seeing your favorite dental hygienist while pregnant is vital.  I would recommend seeing your hygienist as often as needed to prevent gingivitis.  Don’t limit yourself to that “every six months” business.  If your gums bleed during pregnancy, get thee to the dental office, pronto!

3. Colorectal Cancer:  Dr. Han has also connected the same Fusobacterium Nucleatum to Colorectal cancer as well.  This is one nasty little bugger!  Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.  F. nucleatum gets around!

4.  Rheumatoid arthritis: Gum disease and rheumatoid arthritis are connected by inflammation and also the oral bacteria Porphyromonas gingivalis.  P. gingivalis is a very common bacteria associated with gum disease.  It infects the joints.

Bacteria aren’t really funny

5. Atherosclerosis: P. gingivalis is also connected to hardening of the arteries- or as it is formally known- atherosclerosis.  Bacteremia caused during dental procedures may introduce bacteria to the arteries, contributing to this disease.

6. Oral Cancer: P. gingivalis is back again!  This time it’s connected to oral cancer.   Another oral bacteria that causes cancer!  The presence of this bacteria incite the growth of deadly Kaposi’s sarcoma-related lesions and tumors in the mouth.

7. Dementia: P. gingivalis is back yet again connecting  the mouth’s oral bacteria to Alzheimer’s Disease.   Gum disease may increase inflammation in the brain.  Makes sense since there is inflammation in the mouth, and this fire has a domino effect throughout the body!  Thirty plus years of bleeding gum infections does not just stay in the gums.

8. Stomach Ulcers, Non Hodgkin lymphoma, gastric cancer, and pancreatic cancer are all connected to Helicobacter Pylori, another oral bacteria.  We swallow upwards of 100 billion bacteria and other pathogens daily and some of them stick around and cause problem in our GI tract.

9. Pneumonia,  acute bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)  are related to inhaling oral flora.   Poor oral health, especially in hospitals and nursing homes contributes to an increase in these diseases.  More research is needed to see exactly how they are related.

10. Brain Abscess: severe tooth decay in a baby tooth caused the death of an 11 year old boy.  While rare, this can happen, and tooth decay should not be ignored.

11. Diabetes: the connection between diabetes and periodontal disease goes both ways.  The worse your gum infection is, the worse your blood sugar situation is, the worse your gum infection becomes, the worse your diabetes becomes…

12. Erectile Dysfunction- yes, even this is connected to gum disease.  Inflammation knows no bounds.

Bacon, or whatever it takes 

Gum disease and tooth decay are not benign oral conditions.  They infect the entire body, rather like a roulette ball, spinning around the body-pathogens are inhaled, swallowed or travel through the blood.  Where they stops, nobody knows.  My list of oral systemic connections goes on but I think you get the picture. These are some deadly diseases! Some of them may well start in childhood– children get gum disease and decay just as much as adults.

It’s time to have exemplary oral hygiene: no bleeding, no bad oral bacteria and no tooth decay.  Set some goals, work with your dental team, find out what oral bacteria you have and work to change your oral flora to one of health.  Let’s set some New Year’s goals now, and by January 1, 2015 you’ll be on your way to a healthier you, as will the entire family!

It’s not just about pearly teeth anymore, it’s about saving lives.  (That’s why AAOSH was founded!)

I’m always here if you don’t know where to start!

Keep Smiling,

Hello, I'm Barbara Tritz

Unveiling the Stories Behind Dental Hygiene

Loving science, especially biology, from an early age, Barbara is a registered dental hygienist, certified biological hygienist, and orofacial myofunctional therapist. In 2019, she received the Hu-Friedy/ADHA Master Clinician Award from the American Dental Hygienist Association.

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