New research should make you think twice about taking your teeth for granted: gum disease may be linked to diabetes, heart disease, low birth weight and even cancer.
The Washington Post reports that researchers have found that chronic inflammation of gum disease may spur inflammation elsewhere in the body. Gum-disease bacteria may travel to the liver and raise levels of C-reactive protein, which is an indicator of inflammation involved in many conditions, including heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
“There is mounting evidence that there is a bidirectional link between diabetes and gum disease,” Thomas Van Dyke, research team leader at the Forsyth Institute told The Post. (Based in Cambridge, Mass, the institute promotes oral health.)
That may mean that diabetics with gum disease have more difficulty controlling their blood sugar and that gum disease is two to three times as prevalent in diabetics as in the general population, he said. Studies show that when diabetics get their gum disease under control, they have much more success managing their blood sugar levels.
For clues about how gum disease relates to overall health, researchers are also exploring the microbiome, which is the total of bacteria, viruses and fungi in a given site, whether it be a pond or the swamp of your mouth.
Robert Genco, a distinguished professor of oral biology, microbiology and immunology at the State University of New York at Buffalo told The Post the oral microbiome is probably spread via the bloodstream as bacteria seek places to grow elsewhere in the body. “The big issue here is how do oral organisms get to places like the heart, the colon, maybe the breast, maybe the pancreas,” Genco said.
In 2007, the federal government created the Human Microbiome Project to identify the organisms in the body. This led to an understanding that tissues that were thought to be sterile, such as the breast and the placenta, can harbor bacteria.
The oral microbiome is “a blossoming field” that offers a new way to consider periodontal and systemic diseases, Genco said. Science’s knowledge has advanced: Between 700 and 1,000 bacteria have been identified in human mouths, roughly double that known in the 1980s. About 30 organisms are identified with gum disease, a number that has more than doubled over the past decade.
There is a complex microbiome, some of which seems to come from the mouth, in the fatty tissue of the heart walls where cholesterol and heart disease fester, Genco said. Oral-based bacteria is thought to target the fetuses of women with severe periodontal disease, resulting in low birthweight babies.
Insights into gum disease may lie in cutting-edge science. Technical advances have made it easier for scientists to analyze the genetic components of mouth bacteria. Instead of doing laborious, costly bacterial cultures, new techniques allow for just a minute amount of bacteria to create what are essentially genetic bar codes of various organisms and their components.
So, if you aren’t making your teeth a top health priority, you ought to start now. Brush regularly and visit your Apple Tree dentist!