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The Connection Between Oral Bacteria & Overall Health

Oral-Systemic ConnectionSupercentenarian Jeanne Calment from Aries, France, was born in 1875 and died in 1997, at the age of 122 years. When asked the secret to her record longevity, she answered, “Always keep your smile. That’s how I explain my long life.”

Though Ms. Calment may have been referring to a positive attitude, her words inadvertently had a scientific basis, related to oral health. Always keep your smile; meaning always keep your teeth and keep them healthy and free of disease. This will allow you to prolong your health and longevity.

The Oral-Systemic Connection

Recent scientific studies have revealed some astounding new discoveries, linking gum infections and abscessed teeth to cardiovascular risk, including heart attacks. This so called “Oral-Systemic Connection” is the most important advancement in health care since the germ theory of the 1800’s.

For example, we now know that oral inflammation is the #1 source of chronic inflammation in humans, and appears to significantly affect inflammatory diseases throughout the body.

How Oral Bacteria Can Cause More Problems than Dental Caries

The mouth is populated with over 600 types of bacteria, most of which are very beneficial to digestion. There are about 11 types of bacteria found in the mouth that can be harmful, but only when they are present in high concentrations.

These bacteria produce acids as a byproduct of their metabolism. Some can dissolve tooth structure causing caries, while others harbor beneath the gum line and irritate the gums around the teeth. Over time these harmful bacteria will create localized infections that cause the gums to become inflamed and bloody.

In his recently published book, Beat the Heart Attack Gene, Bradley Bale, M.D. describes the causes of atherosclerosis, a disease where plaque builds up in arteries, in which the major concern is due to inflammation.

Newly validated root causes of inflammation are certain destructive types of bacteria from the mouth that enter through the bloodstream. These bacteria gain access to the normally sterile bloodstream through periodontal disease and dental caries.

Interesting New Research that could be Life-Changing

A recent study (Molecular Microbiology 11/2011) has shown that a gram negative oral bacterium, Fusobacterium nucleatum (Fn), increases permeability of the single cell thick endothelial lining of arteries. This increased permeability allows other bacteria to seep into the vessel walls. Inside the walls, these bacteria stimulate a localized infection and inflammation response.

Examination of the swelling sites in the blood vessel walls, called “plaque”, reveal a high concentration of oral bacteria in many cases (Journal of Medical Microbiology, 2009; Journal of Periodontology, 8/2011).

When a plaque ruptures, it may form a thrombus/blood clot that blocks the vessel. If the blockage prevents blood flow (and therefore its oxygen) through the blood vessel completely, all cells downstream dependent on that oxygen supply will die. This results in events such as heart attacks and strokes.

A recent study by Pessi (Circulation 2/2013), examining these thrombi after acute heart attacks, found a concentration of oral bacteria 16 times greater than the surrounding bloodstream. And oral viridans streptococci was found in 78% of the blood clots in acute heart attack victims.

The implications of this research are that oral bacteria can enter the bloodstream and invade the blood vessel walls. This invasion creates infections and inflammation associated with events where thrombi form, which can result in serious health issues including heart attacks and strokes.

What Can You Do To Promote Overall Wellness In Your Practice Today?

  • Make sure your patients do not develop periodontal disease or abscessed teeth. Do not accept swollen or bleeding gums as the final result. 
  • Use simple salivary tests (Oral DNA Laboratory) to analyze elevated concentration levels of the 11 harmful bacteria. 
  • Do a simple finger stick test (Silverstaff Clinical Laboratory) to determine increased inflammation in the bloodstream. 
  • Research the many non-surgical periodontal treatment options showing great promise in conjunction with RP&C.

The future of Complete Dentistry is expanding rapidly into the Total Wellness and Dental Medicine arena. We will be blogging regularly to keep you updated on new research and findings within this arena.

To learn more about the Oral-Systemic Connection, the Treatment of Sleep Disorders and more visit our dental medical courses section.

Photo Credit: Factrange

How Dentists Can Treat Systemic Inflammation

DeWitt Wilkerson, DMD is a senior faculty member at The Dawson Academy and co-owns DuPont & Wilkerson Dentistry in St. Petersburg, FL with fellow faculty member Dr. Glenn DuPont. He launched The Dawson Academy’s annual Airway Symposium and continues to lecture across the world about airway and TMD.