Whoever said that the human body is an inter-connected unit was most certainly onto something. Typically, we’ll hear of a problem with a certain body part manifesting its symptoms in a totally different and seemingly unconnected area of the body. As ground-breaking scientific studies reveal the complex and intimate relationships between the parts of the human body and how they interact and influence each other, it is becoming increasingly important for us to approach the idea of health in a holistic manner in order to improve our health and enjoy a richer, more rewarding life.
Did you know that an unhealthy mouth could potentially lead to joint problems and/or worsen existing ones? Back in 2009, a team of researchers from the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine and University Hospitals of Cleveland reported rather startling findings. It appears that there’s a very strong link between gum disease and rheumatoid arthritis. The team studied a group of 40 people who had mild to severe periodontal disease and a severe form of rheumatoid arthritis. The participants were split into 4 separate groups.
1. Two groups were given anti-TNF-alpha drugs that block the TNF-alpha protein at inflamed arthritic sites. According to patient.co.uk, “TNF-alpha is an inflammatory cytokine or pro-inflammatory mediator which, when present in excessive concentrations, is responsible for the destructive inflammatory processes that occur in, for example, articular cartilage and bone in RA” (Rheumatoid Arthritis).
2. The other two groups were not put on this medication, however:
a. Half of the group were not given any treatment until the study was completed
b. The other half received a non-surgical treatment to clean and eradicate the infection from the tissues and bones in the gums.
After the study was completed, the results were compiled. The researchers reported improvements of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms in the participants who received the gum disease treatment but not the anti-TNF-alpha drugs. They reported an even greater improvement in the participants who received the drugs over those who did not. The drug stops the production TNF-a protein which can exacerbate and trigger inflammation.
The team reported their findings in the Journal of Periodontology. They concluded that people who suffered from gum disease and rheumatoid arthritis experienced a reduction in symptoms when their oral health was addressed and improved! Dr Nabila Bissada, the chair of the department of periodontics at the school was quoted as saying, “It was exciting to find that if we eliminated the infection and inflammation in the gums, then patients with a severe kind of active rheumatoid arthritis reported improvement on the signs and symptoms of that disease.”
How does bad oral health cause dental problems? According to Dr Bissada, the common dominating factor is ‘systemic inflammation’. System inflammation is caused by toxins which are secreted by bacteria found in the mouth. When an individual has gum disease, the gums become infected with bacteria. The bacteria leads to the formation of plaque which breaks down the tooth and causes recession of gum tissue. This creates an easy pathway for bacteria to enter the bloodstream. These bacteria also release toxins which enter the bloodstream where they can travel to virtually all parts of the body, including the joints. Once they are there, they can destroy tissue and trigger an inflammatory response. The destruction of tissue can potentially lead to joint problems while the inflammatory response can worsen existing joint problems.
You see, a lot of joint problems are inflammatory in nature. Diseases like arthritis and gout are all classed as ‘inflammatory diseases’. When this tumur necrosis factor-alpha protein is present in high concentrations in the blood, it can initiate new infections and also trigger inflammation, thereby worsening symptoms for patients who already have the condition. By practicing good oral health, the researchers found that the levels of this inflammatory protein decreased. With this reduction came a decrease in the severity of their symptoms.
A later study by Dr Bissada and co further suggested that there may be a link between the bacteria in the mouth and joint failures. In conclusion, it appears that the science speaks for itself. Good oral health is strongly linked to good overall health, particularly joint health. It appears that by practicing good oral hygiene, you could not only relieve any pre-existing inflammatory conditions, but potentially stop them from developing in the first place. The idea that the mouth is a separate compartment from the rest of the body is now completely invalid. The mouth could actually be the key link to vitality, health and vibrancy in the rest of the body. By practicing good dental hygiene, we can make a significant step toward ensuring we stay healthy, and most importantly, happy. There’s not a stronger indicator of that than a healthy smile.