To continue from the previous blog, gum disease (periodontitis; pyorrhea) has a central role in how the mouth impacts on the body.
To briefly review, gum disease is a bacterial infection. Our bodies are inhabited by more bacteria than we have brain cells. A large number of the bugs live in our digestive tracts. Most of these bacteria are happy to coexist with us in harmony. Some, however, will take advantage of any opportunity to become the kings of the castle. This is when we become ill.
In the mouth, if we do a poor job of looking after it (you know what comes next, just like mom said – brush and floss!), the pathogenic bacteria take advantage of the opportunity provided by the changing environment. Our genetics, our general health (e.g. diabetes) and our habits (e.g. smoking) all have an impact on how the bacteria have an opportunity to grow in numbers. When they have sufficient numbers they become a concern to our bodies.
Our immune systems become aware of the infection in the gum tissues. When the tissues become infected, they are also invaded by these opportunistic pathological bacteria. The bugs also release toxins into the tissues. The immune system mounts a defense of the tissues. It does this by responding to the chemicals the local cells have released into the blood stream to call for help. White blood cells of various types also pick up on the chemical signals and respond to the area. The immune system also responds with antibodies to the areas which stick to the bacteria in a lock and key fashion. All of this is an attempt to capture, kill and dispose of the invading bacteria.
Inflammation has five cardinal signs that were known since ancient times – redness, swelling, heat, pain and loss of use. Not only is this a defensive maneuver, but also a reparative process. The redness is the increase blood flow bringing the antibodies, chemicals and white blood cells to the area. The swelling is a response to tissue injury chemicals that cause the blood vessels to become leaky. This is so that the immune system components have access to the infected tissues. Basically the body is creating off ramps for the immune system traffic to get to the destination. The heat is from increased blood flow and chemical reactions. There is pain associated with some of these chemicals which is meant to be a signal to rest the affected part which also plays into the loss of function until the part heals.
In the mouth this shows up as red, swollen, purple looking and bleeding on contact gums. There is an increase in temperature and the tissue may be painful. Unfortunately, when the immune system is in full offense, the chemicals released will irritate the tooth supporting bone. This bone then retreats from the bacterial toxins and the immune chemicals. Once this bone is gone, it is usually gone for good.
If the teeth have lost their bone support, like a fence post with little ground around it, they will loosen and eventually fall out. This process usually takes some time.
The obvious impact on the body is the decreased ability to eat well. Digestion starts in the mouth. Not enough teeth to properly chew food make getting the nutrients into our systems harder. Poor nutrition leads to diseases and makes existing ones worse.
The less obvious impact is the ability of the invading bacteria and their toxins to spread throughout the body causing more areas of inflammation wherever they settle out. If this is in the blood vessels of the heart then, other processes add to the problem by laying down plaques which over time may lead to heart disease and heart attacks as an example.
The surface area of the gums is comparable to that of the palm. If the palm were to bleed every time you touched something, you would likely want to get the problem resolved. Most people ignore the bleeding they see when they brush their teeth. They also ignore the moving teeth until it is dramatic and painful. At this point, the negative impact on our health directly and indirectly has happened.
Something to think about. Maybe mom was right about brushing and flossing?