Oral health impacts the entire body. Perhaps of the greatest significance is periodontal disease, which can both contribute to and be caused by systemic inflammation.
Periodontitis often begins with gingivitis and leads to destruction of ligaments and bone surrounding the teeth and ultimately tooth loss. Periodontitis generally involves the overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria, which feed on plaque or other toxins in the mouth, possibly including metals released from amalgam fillings.
Smokers, diabetics and obese persons are at increased risk of developing periodontitis, as are those with immune defiency. Additional factors include poor oral hygiene, advancing age and oral colonization with certain types of bacteria. Psychosocial (stress), genetic and socioeconomic status may also contribute to one’s risk.
Individuals with periodontitis have a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular disease, including atherosclerosis and stroke, diabetes mellitus and respiratory diseases. Successful treatment of periodontitis can reduce cardiac risk markers such as C-reactive protein and elevated lipids. There is some association with periodontitis and the development of osteoporosis, as well as the initiation and progression of rheumatoid arthritis.
In pregnancy, periodontitis is associated with an increased risk of preterm low-birthweight deliveries, gestational diabetes and possibly preeclampsia. In the elderly, it is associated with cognitive impair and unwanted weight loss. There is some evidence that suggests periodontitis increases the risk of certain types of cancer.
Given the significant health risks associated with periodontal disease, prevention is the best medicine. Here are some ways to reduce the risk of development of periodontal disease, or its progression:
- Reduce plaque buildup through regular brushing, flossing and cleanings.
- Reduce causes of inflammation such as proinflammatory foods, excessive carbohydrate consumption, alcohol, tobacco and cannabis use.
- Enhance beneficial oral flora with probiotic foods and supplements.
- Remove toxins and unwanted bacteria with detoxifying and antimicrobial herbs and through the Ayurvedic practice of oil-pulling.
- Provide targeted nutritional therapy to oral tissues, through flavonoid-rich foods such as berries and green tea, omega-3 essential fatty acids, chewable coenzyme Q10 and folic acid (if there is deficiency.)
- Visit your dentist regularly.
For suggestions tailored to your unique situation, make an appointment at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health by calling (206) 834-4100.
— Bridget Grusecki, ND, naturopathic physician and resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, the teaching clinic of Bastyr University.