There is a strong connection between your oral health and overall health, and scientists are finding more connections all the time. If left unchecked, bacteria in your mouth can affect many different systems in the body. Heart disease, lung conditions, dementia, and diabetic complications have all been linked to poor oral health. Today we’re going to look at the connection between your oral health and the immune system.
It Starts with Bacteria
Most of the problems that can arise with your oral health start with bacteria. Your mouth is the perfect environment for colonies of bacteria to thrive — it’s moist, warm, and usually has lots of nutrients for the bacteria to feed on. Food particles that are left in your mouth help bacteria grow; that’s why it’s so important to brush and floss daily, in order to clear out the bacteria buffet and control growth.
When bacteria grow out of control, they can cause both periodontal (gum) disease and tooth decay (cavities). As these conditions worsen, bacteria can move from the mouth into the rest of the body.
The Effects of Inflammation
If you don’t properly care for your teeth or see your dentist regularly, you can basically have a bacterial infection the size of your fist sitting there inside your mouth at all times. Bacteria from your mouth get into your bloodstream by way of diseased gums or places where teeth are damaged or missing.
This sets off an immune response in the body, and C-reactive protein, or CRP, is released from the liver. CRP is a substance that is released whenever there is some sort of inflammation. In the short term, it is a natural and appropriate response and doesn’t do any harm, but if CRP is being released constantly (possibly due to bacteria in the mouth causing inflammation), then it can set off a chain reaction that eventually leads to other health conditions.
CRP and Heart Health
Sustained high levels of CRP in the bloodstream have been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks in both men and women. Doctors check C-reactive protein levels to assess your risk of heart attack or stroke. The higher the level of CRP, the higher risk you have. When CRP stays in your system for a long period of time, it contributes to the stiffening and clotting of the arteries.
Immune Response in Pregnant Women
This same immune response has been proven dangerous for unborn children as well. Pregnant women with a heightened immune response can actually activate their baby’s immune system. While in utero, the immune system isn’t meant to be used because it hasn’t fully developed. This can be damaging for the child and has been connected to the development of cerebral palsy. Bacteria in the mouth can also lead to preterm birth, which can cause other complications for a newborn.
Regular trips to the dentist and a consistent at-home care regimen can help you to avoid oral health problems and these more serious concerns. Preventative care is the way to go when trying to stay healthy, so make sure you’re brushing for two minutes twice a day and flossing once a day.