Maintaining Oral Health Naturally
The Importance of a Good Oral Health Routine
This article was featured in the Manitoba Post as part of a series on Lowering Your Risk of Cancer
Inflammation is linked to just about every health concern including arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and degenerative diseases like cancer. Inflammation isn’t always a bad thing, however. When it lasts for a short period of time (up to a few days), the inflammatory process helps the body recover from injury or infection, and dissipates once healing is underway. This acute inflammation stage is a normal and positive process. It's chronic, continuous inflammation that is the cause of so many health problems. Chronic inflammation is associated with accelerated aging (sometimes called inflammaging), which is connected to many age-related diseases including type II diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and cancer.
One of the primary causes of chronic inflammation is gum disease. In the United States, 47.2% of adults over 30 have some form of gum disease. It’s more common in men than women, and the prevalence increases with age -- 70% of men over 65 have some form of gum disease.
If your teeth bleed when you brush, this can be caused by excessive plaque build-up which triggers inflammation. Plaque is the sticky layer of bacteria that accumulates on the teeth, especially along the gum line. Proper oral care can remove the plaque that causes gingivitis (the technical term for inflammation of the gums and the first phase of gum disease). In addition to brushing and flossing, regular use of an oral irrigator, an interdental proxy brush, and a tongue cleaner can help restore red, bleeding, or inflamed gum tissue to pink, vibrant, healthy gums, and prevent gingivitis from progressing to periodontitis.
If gingivitis is left to progress without proper treatment, gum tissue may begin to pull away from the teeth, and pockets can develop where the teeth meet the gums. These spaces are a breeding ground for bacteria, which can build up into a condition called periodontitis, characterized by a loss of attachment between the tooth and bone. This can lead to further gum infection and result in chewing pain, sensitive teeth, receding gums, even bone and tooth loss. One of the clearest indicators of periodontitis is when you feel your teeth are loose and may fall out, but the proliferation of oral bacteria can also cause persistent bad breath. Periodontitis damages the soft tissue and bone that hold the teeth in place. This common condition affects over 11% of the world's population. There are some excellent dental mouthwashes including Peri-Gum that can help heal gum tissue while reducing the pockets that harbor harmful bacteria.
Many studies have found a strong association between chronic periodontitis and high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP). Produced by the liver, CRP is considered a specific marker indicating inflammation in the body and can be measured by a blood test (any acute or chronic infection results in elevated levels). High CRP levels are associated with cancer, as inflammation may facilitate the progression of tumors and angiogenesis (the development of new blood vessels to support cancer cell growth). Surgical and non-surgical periodontal treatments have been shown to reduce levels of CRP which may lower the risk of various cancers.
Research from Finland has found a link between gum disease and different types of cancer, and that the oral bacterium Treponema denticola may be responsible for gastrointestinal cancers. As published in the International Journal of Cancer, an analysis of almost 70,000 adults over a 10-year period found a strong association between gum disease and pancreatic cancer. In another study at Langone Health's Perlmutter Cancer Center, after controlling for potential effects from smoking, alcohol, and body mass index, researchers found that three types of oral bacteria are linked to two fatal forms of esophageal cancer. There is also evidence that specific types of oral microbiota that cause gum disease are associated with head and neck cancer.
Most people are unaware of the tremendous overall health benefits of oral probiotics. This exciting new area of research is showing that their regular use can help reverse gingivitis and periodontitis by correcting imbalances in the oral microbiome. As with the gut microbiome, the oral cavity requires a balanced ecosystem where beneficial bacteria predominate. Poor oral hygiene and oral plaque increase levels of pathogenic oral bacteria like P. gingivalis and Treponema denticola. Probiotic antimicrobial peptides produced by lactic acid bacteria called (bacteriocins) can help treat gum disease by crowding out the bad strains that thrive on dental plaque. Specific strains shown to be effective include S. Salivarius BLIS K12 and M18, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and the Lactobacillus-based strains reuteri, Brevis, and Acidophilus. By increasing levels of these beneficial oral bacteria, harmful bacteria is inhibited. In addition, oral probiotics can help reduce ear, nose and throat infections (including tonsillitis and strep throat).
See your dentist regularly, have frequent cleanings, and implement an oral care routine to help balance your oral microbiome. You should clean your teeth in the proper order, starting with flossing (use small floss picks or regular floss), followed by brushing (electric toothbrushes including the 30 Second Smile are recommended), an interdental brush, and an electric oral water irrigator like the Hydrofloss, proven to remove subgingival plaque (below the gum line). I also recommend tooth powders including Good Gums and Theraneem.
Maintaining good gum health, and using healing mouthwashes and oral probiotics can help prevent, and even reverse gum disease, lowering the risk of Alzheimer's disease, and cancer.