By Robert W.Vera, MD, FACOG LCSW/LCDC – email: firstname.lastname@example.org
In past issues of City Beat Magazine, we have discussed obesity, risky behaviors and breast disease. These topics are not separate and all have a relationship to one another. In this piece, we will see why the condition of your teeth is so important for the rest of your body to stay healthy.
Without diligent care of our teeth, they can begin to fail us. The bacteria that are always present in our mouth is also present in plaque. This sticky substance is where the bacteria make their home. It builds up on teeth when they are not properly brushed (ask your dentist for proper brushing technique. Here are some tips: youtube.com). This bacteria-filled plaque works to make your teeth unhealthy. One way is by using sugars we consume to increase the waste products of bacterial growth and acids, which then will eat away at the enamel on your teeth and cause cavities. Another way is that the plaque causes gingivitis between teeth and gums that anchors them in firm place. Your immune system begins to try to clean up the plaque and infection, which causes even more inflammation. It will continue to get worse and, if untreated, the acids and other caustic chemicals released by bacteria and the immune process will begin to decay the tooth. In addition, by degrading the gums and bone that hold the tooth in place, the tooth loosens. There will then be tooth pain caused by an abscess, or pus pocket, in the root area of the tooth causing pressure on the tooth nerve as the abscess expands.
This infection and inflammation will then begin affect other parts of the body. Research papers shows there is a relationship between gum disease, tooth disease and heart disease. Poor mouth health can lead to heart disease. Doctors are finding that many patients with heart disease also have gum and tooth disease (also called periodontitis). The two health problems share common risk factors: smoking, a poor diet, and obesity. Periodontitis, as mentioned earlier, may actually have a direct role in raising the risk for heart disease. This is because inflammation in the mouth (in the tooth, gums or the bone of the jaw) can become systemic, affecting distant parts of body, especially causing an inflammatory process in the arteries of the body. If these arteries that are now affected by inflammation are in the heart, then heart disease follows. These arteries can become narrowed by the inflammatory response that actually had its beginnings in the teeth. This narrowing of the heart vessels can lead to a heart attack. If the inflammation in the blood vessels becomes even more systemic, even high blood pressure could result, which could further damage the heart. As this inflammation in the teeth continues and affects arteries, these arteries could develop plaque which is a buildup of fat and blood platelets in the lining of the arteries. That buildup can break off and float freely in the vascular system causing strokes or heart attacks.
Diabetes also can be affected by tooth and gum decay. The disease is much more difficult to control if there is infection or inflammation, such as in the teeth and mouth, anywhere in the body. Medication or insulin may not be able to lower elevated levels of glucose in the body. By teaming up with a dentist, diabetes may become controllable.
For pregnant women, periodontitis could make them go into premature labor and deliver a baby early. Infection in the teeth and gums leads to generalized body inflammation and this can lead to premature labor. This inflammation also may cause developmental growth problems for the fetus that is forming in the uterus. It is best to enter into a pregnancy with healthy teeth.
Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens bones and leads to fractures, especially vertebral bones in the spine and, in the femur, also known as the thigh bone. It is not clear yet, but there is some evidence that gum disease can lead to the systemic inflammation, which can affect how bones are mineralized and this can lead to osteoporosis. Fractures of the vertebra or of the hip bone can be life threatening.
There are other conditions that are affected by periodontitis. Lung disease, like pneumonitis, pneumonia, chronic obstructive airway disease (C.O.P.D.) can be made worse by gum and tooth disease. The infection in the mouth leads to an increase in harmful bacteria that can fall into the lungs during breathing or aspiration.
There is an association between the pain of rheumatoid arthritis and periodontitis. As discussed, the inflammation that is set up in the mouth due to tooth and gum decay can become systemic and this may be why rheumatoid arthritis pain can get better with dental treatment.
Obesity itself causes systemic body inflammation because fat triggers an inflammatory response, which can add to the inflammation in the mouth and worsen periodontitis
Learn to care for your teeth and develop a good relationship with your dentist so that you can have a long life of quality health.
Bibliography additional information: https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/features/oral-health-the-mouth-body-connection , Colgateprofessional.com
my.clevelandclinic.org Oral Health and Risk for Cardiovascular Disease.