Perhaps if Benjamin Franklin would have told George Washington, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” he would not be known as the president with wooden teeth. Thank goodness we are able to take his advice today. The secret is out, many recent studies are revealing that oral health is an indicator for overall health and wellness. You have no doubt been hearing the reports of cardiovascular health being linked to a healthy mouth, as well as its role in obesity rates. It is obvious by now that maintaining oral health is the best way to prevent cavities, gum disease, and bad breath; however, it seems like everyday researchers and scientists are finding more and more links between illnesses of the mouth and illnesses in the entire body.
Probably the most well-known link between oral health and overall health is the link between gum disease and cardiovascular disease. In 2008 researchers found that people who experienced bleeding gums were more likely to develop heart disease. When your gums bleed the bacteria in your mouth, and there are more than 700 different types of bacteria in your mouth, is easily able to infiltrate your bloodstream and go straight to the heart. It is amazing, and reassuring to know that it is possible to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by simply flossing and brushing your teeth.
In 2010, groundbreaking research was conducted on Alzheimer’s patients Denmark by researchers at NYU. The study was very small, yet it produced some thought-provoking results. It found that those with gum disease at the age of 70 were associated with low cognitive function scores. In fact, participants with gum inflammation were nine times more likely to score lower on cognitive tests.
Another study conducted more recently, in 2013, compared brain samples of 10 Alzheimer’s patients with samples from 10 patients without Alzheimer’s. They found that the bacteria Porphyromonas gingivalis was present in the brain tissue of the Alzheimer’s patients and not in the samples of those who were not diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. P. gingivalis is normally associated with chronic periodontitis. When the researchers followed up on this finding with lab mice, they discovered that P. gingivalis is motile and has consistently been found in brain tissue. The study revealed that when a body attempts to fight an infection in the brain, cognitive ability or other neurological processes may become compromised.
This study is particularly important because it noted that these motile bacteria can move into the bloodstream every time you open the pathway by bleeding when you floss. It can also make its way into your nerves and eventually your brain through the root of your tooth. Remembering to properly brush and floss everyday may have an immense effect your body and brain functions.
In another study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health in 2007 found a link between periodontal disease and pancreatic cancer. Periodontitis occurs if gum inflammation and gingivitis are left untreated. It can cause bone and tissue damage, and often results in tooth loss. In a follow-up study, the researchers collected data from more than 51,000 men and found that those with the history of gum disease had a 64% increase risk of pancreatic cancer. Scientists are unable to prove that pancreatic cancer can be caused by periodontitis, but there is definitely a link. They muse that it could be caused by the high levels of carcinogenic compounds found in the mouths of people with gum disease, that may create an environment where pancreatic cancer can develop. While it is not a cause and effect situation, it certainly could impact how important flossing is to your oral hygiene routine.
There is still much research to be done and many studies are still being conducted to further link and explain the relationship between oral health and overall wellness. We excited about what the future holds for the body of knowledge surrounding oral hygiene’s effect on the body. If you have questions about what you can do to get your ounce of prevention every day, call our office today and schedule an appointment with Dr. Shields. She has a wealth of knowledge concerning total wellness and oral hygiene that she can’t wait to share with you.