By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE
Clean teeth are a major part of being healthy
Not so long ago, people felt the mouth was not part of the body.
Decay, wear and tear was viewed as a natural part of aging. People thought nothing of building a bridge for their extracted teeth.
Research now suggests that the mouth is very much a window into the rest of the body and that the health of our teeth and gums may be a predictor for life-threatening illnesses. Epidemiologists have shown that expectant mothers with gum disease are more likely to deliver too early or to have babies that are too small. And patients with advanced gum infections tend to have more plaque in the carotid arteries, the big blood vessels leading to the brain.
Bacteria, with more than 600 species dwelling in the mouth and teeth multiply in the presence of sugar, resulting in cavity-packed teeth and rotting gums. Cavities in the teeth are in fact an infectious disease.
Scientists suspect those bacteria are not content to stay in the mouth, but instead travel throughout the body, hitching a ride in the bloodstream and taking up residence in different organs. The body’s own defense system may magnify health problems that begin in the mouth.
When the immune system responds to the presence of bacteria, it summons an army of molecular defenders. Usually, that’s a healthy development-unless there are too many of those defenders or they self-destruct, releasing agents that hurt more than they help. The inflammatory response generated by the immune system can present a whole separate set of problems beyond those caused by the bacteria themselves.
If you think about having an infection in your gums or your teeth and those bacteria are circulating, they can lodge in your lungs, in your kidneys, in your heart, they can lodge almost anywhere in your body.
Infectious disease doctors at the University of Minnesota are trying to prove that a link can be drawn between gum disease and thickening of the carotid arteries. The researchers are performing extensive reviews of samples taken from both the mouths and bloodstreams of patients to see whether the same agents causing problems in the gums are also clogging vessels to the brain.
Other researchers are suggesting there could be broad public-health benefits to better dental care. They propose that treating and preventing tooth and gum conditions provide a low-cost, highly-effective method of reducing the incidence of a variety of health conditions, including heart disease, premature births, and diabetes?
So smile, and make your appointment to see your dentist today!
This article was originally published August 2, 2004 in The St. Tammany News.