Healthy Mouth, Healthy Body: Studies Support the Oral-Systemic Link
Healthy Mouth, Healthy Body: Studies Support the Oral-Systemic Link Staff

You know that you want a healthy mouth, right? You want an attractive smile, fresh breath, kissable lips. These are all important, but there’s much more riding on the health of your mouth. Dental and medical professionals agree that an unhealthy mouth can lead directly to a long list of bad diseases in the body.

Put the blame on inflammation of the gums and other oral tissues. A quick lesson on inflammation:

Most of us are familiar with “inflammation.” It’s when our tissues—skin, muscles, membranes—are hot, red, swollen and painful. Inflammation can be caused by burns, other irritation, or injuries. Inflammation also results from infection.

An inflammatory response is the body’s way of protecting itself from attack by foreign substances, such as bacteria or other micro-organisms. The body sends white blood cells to eliminate the invader. Other proteins and processes raise the energy level, generating the heat, and the redness comes from more red blood cells.

All of this is what’s known as “acute inflammation.” It happens quickly, and once the injury or attacker is under control, it recedes. There are numerous treatments for these kinds of injuries, including cooling, and anti-inflammatory medications, or antibiotics to attack germs. However, if the inflammatory response is not terminated, the result is “chronic inflammation.”

Free Radicals

A result of inflammation is a breakdown of the body’s cells and molecules. Some of these broken-down molecules have released electrons or ions, and are known as reactive oxygen species (ROS), or as “free radicals.” Missing their electrons, the free radicals try to grab more electrons to complete their molecular structure. They often end up “stealing” the electrons from other molecules, leaving them unstable as well.

As the inflammation process continues, the free radicals can multiply out of control. Imagine a rogue army of electron-stealing molecules attacking molecules in other cells, and gaining strength and numbers. Fortunately, the body produces neutralizing molecules that can donate electrons or bond with the free radicals. In fact, the body is constantly in process of creating and neutralizing the free radicals. But when the free radicals over-accumulate, the state is known as oxidative stress, which leads to whole-body or “systemic” inflammation and a ton of other problems.

Oral Inflammation Leads to…What?

An often-overlooked cause of chronic inflammation is infection in the oral tissues. When your gums bleed, or your dentist says you have gingivitis or other gum disease, you are in danger of systemic inflammation.

There is a very long list of disorders and diseases that have been linked to systemic inflammation, which is often the result of oral disease. Some of these disorders include diabetes, preeclampsia and pre-term labor, rheumatoid arthritis, certain cancers, TMD (temporal mandibular disorder), and possibly even Alzheimer’s disease.

Of particular note is the link between systemic inflammation and cardiovascular disease, that is, disease of the heart and blood vessels. Scientists in the fields of dentistry and medicine are proving that the infection and inflammation of oral disease are strongly linked to inflammation and disease in other parts of the body. In July 2009, the prestigious American Journal of Cardiology and the Journal of Periodontology simultaneously published “Editors' Consensus: Periodontitis and Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease.” The article affirmed the connection between serious gum disease and cardiovascular disease that can lead to heart attack and stroke.

In addition, the American Academy of Oral /Systemic Health (AAOSH) writes on its website,

“Emerging science confirms that chronic low-grade infections in the mouth elevates systemic inflammation and has an impact on all body systems. The mouth is further linked with the rest of the body when considering the impact of oral airway and sleep apnea, TMD and headaches, dental caries [cavities] infections, and oral cancer. The significance of these numerous mouth-body and oral-systemic connections highlight the importance of preventing and treating oral disease which has mounting and profound medical impacts on ‘whole body’ health.”  

Antioxidants to the Rescue

One group of molecules that combat the rogue free radicals is antioxidants. They provide the extra electrons for the free radicals, restoring the balance of oxidation, and reducing the long-term effects of inflammation.

The body produces natural antioxidants. The best way to enhance the natural antioxidants is healthy eating. There’s a reason your doctor, dentist and nutritionist urge you to eat lots of healthy fruits and veggies: They are loaded with natural antioxidants. Supplemental antioxidants, such as vitamin C, can be ingested. Antioxidants applied topically are also effective in reducing inflammation.

Three Keys to a Healthy Mouth and Healthy Body

What can you do to make sure your mouth is healthy? Three key things go a long way to both oral and systemic health:

  1. General healthy habits.  Eat right. That means lots of fruits and vegetables. Cut down on sugar and alcohol. Also, be sure to get plenty of sleep and exercise. Of course, you already know you shouldn’t use tobacco products.
  2. Keep up with dental visits. You should visit the dentist at least once a year; twice is better. A professional cleaning gets rid of the icky plaque on your teeth which is a breeding ground for infection and inflammation. Your dentist can also treat other oral inflammation or disease.
  3. Religious oral hygiene. Every day. At least twice a day. Floss. Brush. Rinse. Any good oral care products are sufficient, but you might look at some special products that contain antioxidants, including toothpaste, mouth rinse, and a topical gel.

PerioSciences LLC produced the first oral care products with the powerful antioxidants phloretin and ferulic acid. They are applied directly to the oral tissues for soothing oral hygiene plus the health benefits of antioxidants.

There are so many factors and variables that influence your overall healthy body. Just don’t neglect the importance of your healthy mouth.


Image credit: Shutterstock Standard License

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