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The Mouth: A Playground for Bacteria

Guest Author, Dr. Bobbi Stanley, DDS at Stanley Dentistry

Science has taught us that the human body is a system of parts that work together -- but what does that really mean? In short, it means that not a single aspect of your body’s health is truly isolated. Good health in one part of your body can help create good health across the board just as poor health in one part of the body can cause illness throughout other parts. When it comes to overall well-being, poor dental health is oftentimes the last thing people think about even though its adverse effects can be quite dangerous. Keep yourself and your family healthy by better understanding the connection between your gums and teeth and the rest of your body.

Over 700 different types of bacteria have been found in the human mouth -- though most people only have around 30 to 70 different varieties at one time. The vast majority of those bacteria are completely harmless or are kept that way by regularly brushing and flossing. However, if you neglect to keep up with proper oral hygiene, those bacteria can multiply exponentially, causing complications such as periodontal disease (gum disease) and tooth decay. As a dentist, when I hear those words, I think of fillings, extractions, and root canals because that’s typically what we prescribe patients who have allowed the bacteria in their mouth to get out of control. However, from a general health provider’s perspective, I see more widespread complications including:

  • Cardiovascular Problems: This is the first thing I, and many other healthcare professionals, think of when looking for connections between the mouth and the rest of the body. Studies have found that the plaque that builds up on your teeth and the bacteria that causes gingivitis can potentially lead to clogged arteries and blood clots, which then turn into heart attacks and strokes. Endocarditis (which is when the inner lining of your heart becomes infected) can also be caused by bacteria that originated in the mouth.

  • Alzheimer's: A recent study has proposed a connection between the bacteria that cause periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s. Although more studies are needed to solidify this theory, there is a good amount of evidence that suggests untreated periodontal disease can play a major role in the development and progression of Alzheimer’s.

  • Preterm Birth: Having a large number of dangerous bacteria in your mouth from periodontal disease is never good. This is especially true if you’re pregnant. That bacteria can affect the baby, causing premature birth and low birth weight.

  • Previous Illness: People with autoimmune diseases (or people who are undergoing treatment for cancer or any other serious illness) are at a higher risk of developing dental health problems that lead to more dangerous conditions. Because these people have weakened immune systems, their bodies cannot fight the bacteria that spread from the mouth to the bloodstream. People who have HIV/AIDS, diabetes, or osteoporosis are particularly high-risk for oral health complications. I recommended that anyone with these diseases visit the dentist more often and ask about prescription-level dental products.

Unlike a lot of other diseases, treatment for gingivitis (the first stage of gum disease) is pretty simple: brush and floss. Brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing once a day, eating a balanced low-sugar diet, and drinking plenty of water will help keep any harmful bacteria from getting out of control. If you experience extensive gum bleeding and gum recession (the gums pulling away from the tooth), schedule an appointment at a dentist’s office as soon as possible. Treatment for periodontal disease is easy but it does require a dentist and a hygienist. 

Keep your mouth healthy and clean and the rest of your body will thank you!

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