This may be something new to you – but your teeth can actually impact your overall health. Yes, your oral health and your immune system are intimately connected, and most problems with dental health are due to bacterial build-up.
If you let bacteria build up in your mouth, it can increase your risk of developing health problems that include respiratory disease, heart disease, and diabetes.
Your Oral Health and Immune System – Is There a Connection?
Your mouth contains bacteria that feed on sugars and food particles left on your teeth. Brushing twice a day, flossing, and avoiding foods high in sugar will help reduce the number of these bacteria.
However, if left untreated, these bacteria will attack the enamel on your teeth and also your gums, leading to tooth decay and gingivitis. You already know this, but how does this affect your immune system?
As dental problems develop, such as bleeding gums from gingivitis, bacteria can enter the bloodstream. When this happens, you may experience red, swollen gums or swelling around an abscessed tooth.
Swelling and redness are signs of inflammation: your immune system’s response to fight off infection as bacteria from your teeth and gums enters the bloodstream.
As your body is continually working to produce white blood cells to protect the body, this constant strain to fight off oral bacteria and infection can lead to chronic inflammation throughout the body.
You see, your mouth is perfect for bacteria to thrive because it’s warm and moist, and is why it’s crucial to brush your teeth twice daily and to floss once-a-day. If you fail to do this, the bacteria in your mouth will cause gum inflammation, causing them to bleed.
Once this happens, bacteria can easily enter your bloodstream, promoting an immune response from your body. This response creates further inflammation, which is a perfectly natural response in the short term.
However, the longer your body produces this immune response, the higher the levels of a protein called C-reactive protein in your bloodstream. Eventually, the presence of this protein can create the ideal conditions for other health problems to arise.
Maintaining excellent oral health and seeing us regularly for checkups and cleanings will go a long way towards avoiding oral health problems while protecting your general health.
Defining Chronic Inflammation
If the local area doesn’t heal (meaning, in the case of cavities, abscessed teeth, or gum disease, the areas are cared for by a dentist), and your body is continuing to try and fight off infection and bacteria through an inflammatory immune response, it can lead to a constant low-level amount of inflammation throughout the body.
Because your body is continuing to send out white blood cells and fight off infection, the immune system becomes depleted, leaving you susceptible to both short-term and chronic illness.
Common Health Problems Linked to Oral Health
In addition to cavities and gum disease, having poor dental health can directly lead to chronic inflammation which is attributed to a lengthy list of serious health problems, including:
- Cancer – Inflammatory cells can damage healthy cells and even cause DNA damage which leads to certain forms of cancer
- Heart disease – Inflammatory cells promote a buildup of plaque in the arteries.
- Diabetes – Chronic inflammatory chemicals can lead to insulin resistance. When the body is less sensitive to insulin, higher blood sugar can result, leading to type II diabetes.
Additionally, your body’s immune system is depleted to fight against short-term illnesses. Having poor dental health can also lead to a stronger likelihood of catching colds and other short-term or acute illness.
Taking Care of Your Teeth Goes a Long Way!
By taking care of your teeth to remove bacteria and seeing your dentist for checkups, you can keep your immune system focused on fighting other threats, whether it’s a cold or flu outbreak or more serious health issues. When you’re trying to stay healthy, a good offense against bacteria is your best form of defense!