Researchers Uncover How Gum Disease Impacts Overall Health

Researchers Uncover How Gum Disease Impacts Overall Health

At our dental office in Erie, CO, our team at Impressions Dental wants patients to better understand the connection that links their oral and overall health. As we’ve covered before in our blog, patients who develop tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss have a significantly higher risk for developing a range of chronic health conditions that include diabetes, dementia, cancer, and heart disease.

What links these seemingly disparate conditions together has long remained a subject of debate among health officials. Now, new research has found the mechanism that enables gum disease to increase inflammation throughout the body, thereby increasing an individual’s risk for other illnesses.

During early stage (gingivitis) or late stage (periodontitis) gum disease, harmful oral bacteria in plaque work to attack the body’s immune system. These attacks trigger inflammation to develop, which in time, erodes the tissue and bone structure that holds our teeth into position.

The Final Piece in an Important Health Puzzle

Nearly half of all adults in the U.S. have some form of gum disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As we’ve touched on in our blog, gum disease contributes to developing a wide range of health concern in which chronic inflammation plays a significant role.

Despite this known connection, the mechanism linking these types of conditions to gum disease remained unclear until now. In experiments conducted by a team at the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Toronto, researchers have uncovered that gum disease primes blood cells known as neutrophils, which then overact to infections that develop in other parts of the body.

The neutrophils, which are part of the body’s natural defenses against disease, release signaling molecules called cytokines that cause inflammation in the body to become worse.

Researchers compared the increase in activity of cytokines to over revving an engine. Instead of the body attacking disease as it normally would, it goes into overdrive and attacks at a rate that actually harms the body by increasing levels of inflammation.

The results of the study were published in the Journal of Dental Research.

Determining the Cause of Inflammation

In their study, researchers induced gum disease in mice. After the mice developed gum disease, it led to a proliferation of neutrophils in the animals’ bone marrow, suggesting a widespread immune response.

In contrast, mice with peritonitis, an infection of the membrane that lines the abdomen, showed increased numbers of neutrophils in their blood near the site of infection. However, mice that already had gum disease when they developed peritonitis had a significantly higher number of neutrophils at the infection site. After more investigation, the research team found that neutrophils from animals with gum disease had molecular markers in their outer membranes that indicated they were likely to cause increased inflammation.

To discover wither similar immune changes occur in people, the team asked volunteers not to brush or floss their teeth for a three week period. This led to the development of gingivitis in the mouths of the participants. When researchers analyzed blood samples from the participants, they discovered neutrophils that were ready to cause inflammation, just like those discovered in the test mice.

Once the participants started to brush and floss like usual, the levels of neutrophils in their blood returned to normal levels.

“Together, these results demonstrate that periodontal tissue has systemic effects that predispose toward an exacerbated innate immune response. This indicates that neutrophils can respond synergistically to simultaneous and remote inflammatory triggers and therefore contribute to the interaction between gum disease and other inflammatory conditions,” concluded the research team.

Protect Your Health by Visiting our Dental Office in Erie, CO

As we’ve pointed out before in our blog, your oral health matters to more than just the state of your smile. Untreated tooth decay and gum disease not only permanently damage your ability to eat and drink, but the can also jeopardize your long-term health. Fortunately, you can significantly lower your risk for these problematic oral health conditions by scheduling regular exams and cleanings at our dental office in Erie, CO.

Regular dental care can make all the difference. Don’t place your health at risk by avoiding the dentist. Contact our team at Impressions Dental today so you can keep smiling with confidence.

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