How so that poor oral health can impact the rest of the body?
Here’s a perspective most of us don’t like to consider: Of two hundred people, all with the same common risk factors – say obesity, smoking and physical inactivity – and of those, half have experienced tooth loss, those in the latter group will have a cardiovascular event or die because of their deficient oral health.
It’s a rather sobering thought.
How so? Because tooth surface build up of bacteria in places inaccessible to the normal oral hygiene practices of brushing and flossing, have gums react by becoming inflamed in order to eliminate the damaging bacteria. This inflammation weakens the gum barrier, allowing the toxic products to enter the blood stream, which of course induces further physiological responses to eradicate the unwanted bacterial intrusion.
The purpose the liver is to process nutrients, filter the blood and remove toxins. So gum disease adds to the burden of inflammation within the body, and this in turn, contributes to the onset of chronic conditions.
There are strong links between periodontitis and other systemic diseases affecting major organs: respiratory disease, cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s, obesity, heart disease, chronic kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cancer.
None of which you can just brush away.
Although spatially the gums are near the brain, there wasn’t always an association between dental complaints and neurological conditions.
In the same way our mouth is used for both kissing and screaming, it is home to both healthy, protective bacteria, and harmful: the ones that promote inflammation.
In recent studies conducted by the New York University College of Dentistry, New York, researchers found that people with more harmful than healthy gum bacteria were more likely to have a protein marker for Alzheimer’s disease (known as amyloid-beta) in their cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).
It is the first time evidence for brain amyloid was associated with increased harmful and decreased beneficial bacteria. An imbalanced oral bacterial community under the gumline creates a CSF biomarker of Alzheimer’s disease in cognitively normal older adults.
Alzheimer’s is marked by two proteins in the brain: amyloid-beta, and tau. Amyloid-beta clumps to form plaque; and is believed to be the first protein deposited in the brain as Alzheimer’s develops. Tau protein builds up in nerve cells, and tangles are formed.
Other studies have found a link between tooth loss from periodontal disease and cognitive function. One study followed 597 individuals for up to 32 years, and concluded that one type of bacteria commonly found in cases of periodontitis – Porphyromonas gingivalis – can be found in the brains of sufferers of Alzheimer’s.
The risk of cognitive decline increases as more teeth are lost. And with tooth loss, comes a decline in nutrition. Research shows that approximately 50% of our elderly population are either malnourished, or at risk of malnutrition.
It’s hard to snack on an apple and a handful of nuts when you don’t have the teeth for it.
More frightening really, is the fact that almost 70% of adults aged 65 and older have gum disease, and with it the chronic and systemic inflammation that completely reduces quality of life for the elderly.
We used to just put it down to ‘old age’. Now we know what it really is, and why the difference between flexible, active, and fully functioning elderly people.
It’s their teeth.
Oral health is imperative to wellbeing. It is where everything begins: digestion, gut microbiomes, and balanced bacteria – of which there are 10 times as many microbial cells as human cells… around 100 trillion of them.
That’s a lot to think about.
It’s time to brush up old ideas of getting by with lax oral hygiene routines and sporadic dentist appointments. Never look a gift horse in the mouth, and don’t horse around with the gift that is your mouth.
Dental health is instrumental to mental health, and fundamental wellbeing.
Note: All content and media on the Elevate Dental website and social media channels are created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice.