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As much as 50% in the reversal of cancer is in the mouth.
-Burton Goldberg, expert in the field of alternative medicine
How can a two time cancer survivor and expert in alternative cancer treatments make such a statement? In this article we will explore how the health of the mouth affects the whole body and how gum disease can increase the risk of things like cancer and heart disease. Sound crazy? There is a well researched link between gum disease and other problems in the body…
What is Gum Disease?
Gum disease, or periodontal disease, is the name for a range of oral health problems ranging from gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) to the more serious periodontitis (where gums pull away from the teeth and serious infection can result).
Many people may have the early signs of gum disease and not even realize it! Symptoms like persistent bad breath, swollen gums, gums that bleed when flossing, sensitive teeth or painful spots on the gums when chewing can all be early signs on gum disease.
In fact, if you are reading this, there is a good chance you could have some form of gum disease and not even realize it! According to David Kennedy, DDS and past president of the International Association for Oral Medicine and Toxicology:
- Over 90% of adults over age 30 have some stage of active gum disease.
- 65% of 15 year olds already have active gum disease (yikes!)
How Gum Disease Affects the Body
It is well established that gum disease can be devastating to the mouth and is the leading cause of adult tooth loss and other oral problems. What is less well-known is that gum disease can also have negative impact on other parts of the body.
The mouth is not an isolated ecosystem, but an integral part of the immune system. The mouth is intimately connected to many other parts of the body and a bacterial imbalance or gum disease in the mouth can create immune problems and inflammation in other parts of the body as well.
In fact, it is well documented that gum disease can increase the risk of various types of cancer (including breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, esophageal cancer and others), heart disease, stroke and other serious problems. Pregnancy complications and low-birth weight in babies have also been linked to gum disease.
Gum Disease = Active Bacterial Infection
The reason the negative impact of gum disease goes beyond the mouth is gum disease is an active bacterial infection that has access to the whole body via the bloodstream! The ‘bad bugs’ involved with gum disease are very mobile. They can and do swim upstream and colonize other areas of the body. In fact, the plaque deposits from bad bugs in the mouth are the same types of plaque found in arterial walls in heart disease sufferers! Given the understanding that these bacteria in the mouth travel through the bloodstream, it makes sense that gum disease could affect the rest of the body.
Gum disease increases the risk of many conditions, including:
Bacteria Enter the Bloodstream Through the Mouth
We now understand that the harmful bacteria present in gum disease colonize in the mouth, but are then able to access the rest of the body via the bloodstream. In essence, a person with active gum disease has an enemy “inside the gates” slowly but surely eroding his or her health by poisoning the system with bacteria.
The known risks of this common situation are two fold:
- The actual damage caused by the bacteria in the mouth
- How the body responds to this chronic bacterial attack and the resulting inflammation
First, these bacteria can destroy flesh and bone tissue in the mouth, leading to severe gum problems and tooth loss. In fact, these bacteria have been documented by microscope attacking and killing white blood cells! as a byproduct of this attack, they also dump toxins into the system.
The second risk is how the body responds to this chronic bacterial attack with an immune response and the resulting inflammation.
How the Body Responds to Bacterial Infection in the Mouth
The immune system recognizes the gum disease as the rampant bacterial infection it is. One way the body defeats an infection is to increase the inflammation in the local area of the infection in an effort to increase blood flow thus increase the number of white blood cells to fight the infections. Swollen, painful gums, bleeding when brushing or flossing are clear signs of an active bacterial infection in the mouth and an early warning sign of serious gum disease (this is also a sign that many people ignore).
The problem arises when the infection is a chronic one, like with gum disease. In the case of chronic infection, the body’s infection fighting reaction becomes habit, thus creating a state of chronic inflammation.
Chronic Infection = Chronic Inflammation
More serious problems begin to occur when the bacteria present in the mouth from gum disease travel to other parts of the body. At this point, it is now a system wide chronic inflammation that contributes to and sets the stage for other diseases like arthritis,diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Thus, gum disease really is one of the main pathways, like a gateway disease, that helps support the conditions that allow system wide diseases to establish and flourish.
Thankfully, while gum disease is a serious problem with links to even more serious conditions, there are ways to address gum disease and return the mouth (and body) to health.
Improve the Body Through Oral Health
There is a two-part approach to improving oral health:
- In the Mouth: Improving oral health in the mouth and working to remove harmful bacteria that lead to gum disease to reduce the bacterial load on the body
- Throughout the Body: Improving immunological health throughout the body to create address health on a cellular level
The first part of this approach focuses on what can be done in the mouth to create greater oral health as well as whole being wellness. This includes things like good oral hygiene, brushing, flossing and other methods.
The second perspective focuses on tools and techniques that raise immunological health. Increasing the health of our immune system is the primary tool we have to create greater oral health. Supporting the immune system properly can create an environment in the body that is unsuitable for the bacteria that cause gum disease.
Like all aspects of health, it is important to remember that the body works as a whole and to address the source of the problem (the mouth) as well as the rest of the body.
Improving Immunological Health to Fight Gum Disease
There are many factors that affect the immune system and the body’s ability to effectively handle bacteria in the mouth, including:
- Diet: To support oral health, it is important to eat a mineral rich diet, consume plenty of quality fats and eliminate foods like vegetable oils and sugar.
- Lifestyle: For immune health, it is important to get enough sleep, address stress, and avoid lifestyle habits like smoking that can affect oral health.
- Oral Hygiene: Understanding the mouth/body connection makes it easy to see how good oral health habits can greatly affect the immune system as a whole. (Here is a peek into my own oral health routine)
Stop Putting Toxins into the System
Fundamental to any attempt at creating greater oral health as well as whole being wellness is to stop putting toxins into the system. It is important to understand the two main ways that toxins can be introduced to the system through the mouth:
- The toxins that gum-disease causing bacteria dump or trigger in our system.
- The toxins that are inadvertently introduced to prevent disease through the use of oral hygiene products.
Prevent Disease or Create Health… Which Comes First?
These two concepts, to prevent disease and to create health, are central to fighting gum disease and they are important in different ways. We can see this debate most clearly in history with the example of Louis Pasteur, the ‘father’ of modern medicine and germ theory and Antoine Beauchamp, a contemporary of Pasteur’s who promoted a related theory but with a different focus called cellular (or terrain) theory.
These two theories support the realization that if we want to create optimal health, our primary focus must be to create health, then to secondarily address disease prevention. So, our primary intent must be on wellness protocols of creating health.
Therefore, we must be aware of introducing any additional harmful substances into our system as these may impair our immunological efforts to create health. This especially applies if the sunstances we introduce to the system are under the guise of preventing disease. For example, if we introduce toxins into the system by applying germ theory (prevent disease) approach, we are not addressing the primary focus, to create health.
(If you want more information on this interesting subject, here’s a video discussing this subject from OraWellness.)
How to Reduce Harmful Bacteria from Gum Disease
While supporting the body as a whole to improve immune health through diet and lifestyle is vital and should be addressed first, it is also important to address the colonization of harmful bacteria in the mouth directly to fight gum disease:
Brush Your Teeth Correctly to Reduce Gum Disease
Just like other notable doctors and researchers from history like Weston A Price and Edward and May Mellanby, Dr. Charles Bass was an early pioneer of oral health and medicine and he shed some light on a technique proven to reduce the population of bad bugs in the mouth. It is known as the Bass Brushing technique and it works to break up colonies of harmful bacteria hidden within the gum line. It is much more gentle and effective than traditional brushing methods and has been shown to help fight gum disease and gingivitis.
In fact, Dr. Bass was once told that he needed to have all of his teeth pulled due to his severe gum disease and used his knowledge of microbiology, his microscope and trial and error to discover this method of brushing. He was able to save his teeth and died with all of his original teeth intact.
Conscious flossing goes hand in hand with proper brushing. Paying attention to what our flossing uncovers is a huge step toward creating greater oral health in our lives. OraWellness explains how to floss consciously:
1. Take a piece of floss that is long enough so you can use a new segment of floss between each set of teeth.
2. Stop and look at the floss after each flossing point. Look for any discoloration on the floss. Any color (blood or yellowish color) is a clear sign you have active infection in the gum pockets around those teeth.
3. Step three requires some courage, so be strong! Smell the floss. Yep, smell it after each contact you clean.
4. Feel as you floss for any pain, sensitivity or signs of swelling.
Bottom line here is if you have any color on the floss (bleeding gums) or bad small, you have an active infection in the gum pockets between those two teeth.
Clean the Mouth with Non-toxic Oral Health Products
One crucial factor when addressing products for oral health is to be sure not to put any additional toxins into the system in the process. Introducing harmful substances into the system while working to remove existing toxins from bacteria in the mouth is really taking one step forward and two steps back.
In other words, introducing toxins into the system that will lower and limit immune health is counterproductive since immune health is a primary focus when working to fight gum disease. Using oral health products that contain toxic ingredients which impair our immune function is short sighted at best if not downright injurious to overall health. Some of my favorite non-toxic oral health products are:
- Wellnesse Whitening & Remineralizing Toothpaste – the DIY recipe I’ve been making for years, meticulously sourced and now available from yours truly!
- OraWellness Brushing Blend and Bass Toothbrushes
- Homemade Remineralizing Toothpaste
- Simple Whitening Toothpaste
- Using Charcoal to Improve Oral health
Learn About Oil Pulling
Oil pulling is a technique out of ancient Indian (ayurvedic) medicine. This excellent technique not only cleanses the mouth, it also helps to detoxify the whole system. Here is a link to an article that details the benefits, science, and technique of oil pulling.
Learn Free Techniques to Improve Mouth Ecology
There is a direct link between the amount of saliva we produce and our ability to maintain a healthy, disease free mouth environment. The unfortunate fact is saliva production declines as we age. It is no surprise that the risks of gum disease as we age increases in step with the decline in saliva production.
Although all the above suggestions will drastically help create greater oral health, we have saved the most fundamental, perhaps the most important, aspect to create greater oral health for last.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Steven Lin, who is a Board accredited dentist trained at the University of Sydney. With a background in biomedical science, he is a passionate whole-health advocate, focusing on the link between nutrition and dental health. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor or dentist.
What do you do to help protect your oral health? Any tips you’d recommend? Share below!