Chewing our food is the main function of your teeth. They are expertly designed to do just that, our incisors to cut, canines to tear, and our molars to grind and mash our food into bits small enough to swallow. This is common knowledge, but what you may not be aware of is that the action of chewing is also a trigger to the immune system. It will never cease to amaze this Jacksonville, Florida dentist how interconnected the mouth is with the rest of the body.
How Does Chewing Trigger the Immune System?
A recent study published in Immunity detailed studies involving measuring the amount of T helper 17 cells in the mouths of mice with varying diets. Scientists found that when the subjects were fed food the had to chew thoroughly to eat the concentration of Th17 cells was significantly higher than that of mice who were fed softer food they did not need to chew. This experiment proved that these specific cells were produced because of chewing. And, that the body makes these cells to keep the mouth healthy when it is at its most vulnerable.
What Are Th17 Cells?
The immune system is a complex body system made up of tissues, organs, and cells that respond to all sorts of infections. If something foreign and dangerous enters the body the immune system jumps into action and sends the appropriate cells to the right space. Our lymphnodes are one of the man hubs of immune activity in our bodies. Within the lymph nodes a specific type of white blood cell is produced and triggered depending on the appropriate immune response. These are called Lymphocytes and there are three different types of them. Natural killer cells, B cells, and T cells. Natural Killer Cells, otherwise known as NK cells, are part of the innate immune system and can defend the body against tumors and viruses by distinguishing infected, abnormal cells from healthy ones and releasing cytotoxins into those cells. This kills the harmful cells and protects the body. B cells and T cells are part of the adaptive immune system. This immune response assess the threat and then spurs the production of the exact type and amount of cells to eliminate the infection, or pathogen-infected cells. Think of them as the a-la-carte menu of immune responses. B cells originate in bone marrow tissue, and T cells from the thymus.
Th17 cells are a specific type of T cell. When we chew there is a possibility that our gums will be damaged and the bacteria that resides in our mouths will be allowed to infiltrate the sensitive tissue. Our immune system recognizes the harmful bacteria teeming in our mouths and sends signals to the thymus to release these Th17 cells to eradicate the harmful bacteria before it has a chance to cause any damage.
Gum Inflammation and Immune System Response
Gum inflammation is a serious problem for oral and overall health. Inflammation can lead to gum disease and periodontal disease if not taken care of and treated properly. It is amazing to know that our body has an adaptive response to help keep our mouths free of disease, however it is also largely up to us to help our bodies out a bit. The body is an amazing thing, it protects itself and heals itself but it can only do so much. If your gums are in a constant state of inflammation due to poor oral hygiene all the Th17 cells in the world won’t be able to stave off the horrible degenerative periodontal disease.
Taking care of your gums by brushing for two minutes twice each day and flossing correctly once each day will physically remove a remarkable amount of bacteria, sugar, acid, and plaque from your teeth. This small habit gives your immune system an outstanding head start on fighting for your health.
At this Jacksonville, Florida dental practice we believe that the whole body relies on the health of the mouth. It is amazing that our immune systems get right to work protecting our body while we chew our food. If you have questions about how you can best protect your gums and mouth from diseases, and how you can help your immune system fight what you can’t see, schedule an appointment today. Dr. Shields loves educating her patients on how they can promote wellness with a strand of dental floss.