Gums Connect More Than Teeth
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! Holistic health professionals have long believed this.
The traditional medical community is recognizing the link between poor health in gums (periodontal disease) and major systemic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease, low birth weight infants and behavioral and psychosocial conditions. Research studies are still ongoing in an effort to make conclusive claims, however over the last ten years, the evidence is building:
- According to The American Academy of Periodontology (AAP), patients with periodontal disease have a 1.5-2 times greater risk of incurring a fatal 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."1
- 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.2
- 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. Dr. F. Scannapieco, D.M.D., lead researcher of a study published in January, 2001 Journal of Periodontology, found that patients with periodontal disease have a 1.5 times greater risk of COPD.3
- More and more evidence is mounting to show a link between low birth weights and periodontal disease. In 1996, Dr. Steven Offenbacher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that even after taking other possible causes of prematurity into account, women with periodontal disease are 7 times more likely to have a baby of low birth weight or that is premature.4
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 reason that periodontal disease is a risk factor to these major systemic diseases is bacteria. There are from 200-300 different species of bacteria in the mouth. There is no other place in or on the male or female body that houses this diversity of bacteria./
Not all bacteria are bad, however. The periodontal bacteria that are mostly pathological are anaerobic — that is, they live in the absence of air. Good bacteria that our bodies benefit from are usually aerobic — they 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.
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 takes additional time and effort to floss as well as brush, most people don’t. 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, where a toothbrush has trouble accessing.
Today, there are numerous devices to keep your mouth clean: electric toothbrushes, oral irrigators, tongue scrapers, oral disinfectants and more. Even with these additional 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.
P. Piero D.D.S. is a practicing dentist in Holland, Michigan and inventor of Dental Air Force — a dental cleaning system for the home that combines tooth brushing and flossing by using air, water and a dental cleaner. He can be reached at 616-399-8511 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit http://www.dentalairforce.com for more information.
- "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
- "Diabetes: The Mouth-Body Connection." The American Academy of Periodontology.
- "Study Shows Patients with Good Periodontal Health Breathe Easier." The American Academy of Periodontology, Journal of Periodontology, January 2001.
- "Periodontal Infection as a Possible Risk Factor for Preterm Low Birth Weight." Journal of Periodontology, October, 1996.