Brushing and flossing your teeth is about far more than avoiding cavities. In fact, the effects of less than stellar dental hygiene are associated with diabetes and heart disease, just for starters.
But until now, while your doctor could tell you that taking care of your mouth was also beneficial for better heart health, they weren’t sure exactly why.
Now, however, thanks to researchers at the University of Toronto, the missing link between gum health and the risk of other diseases has finally been zeroed in on a particular kind of immune system cell…
Do you have hyperactive neutrophils?
That cell is called a neutrophil and looking back to high school biology, you may remember that it’s part of your body’s innate immune system (the defense system against germs that you were born with).
The researchers found that these cells can be hyperactivated by gum disease. If you haven’t been taking care of your mouth diligently and flossing out the gunk that gathers between your teeth when you eat, your immune system can release huge numbers of these to tackle the bacterial infection that can result.
But while it would seem like a good thing that your body’s immune system would kick in and send out these neutrophils to fight in the battle for your gums, here’s where the poop hits the propeller.
The scientists found that once your neutrophils are activated to fight off an oral infection, the effects don’t remain in your mouth.
Instead, your immune system’s reaction goes systemic (body-wide), and an overabundance of neutrophils circulates throughout your body, primed for attack. The second that they sense even the smallest threat of a secondary infection anywhere, they respond with excessive force.
“It’s almost as if these white blood cells are in second gear when should be in first,” says Michael Glogauer, professor at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Dentistry and the study’s senior author.
Creating secondary inflammatory conditions
You can probably see where this is going…
Once a secondary infection is found, those neutrophils, which are just spoiling for a fight, can actually attack and destroy your body’s own tissues and organs.
And depending on which organ or tissue they attack — chronic disease can result.
If it’s your heart and blood vessels, heart disease is just around the corner.
Maybe they hit your pancreas. Blood sugar problems could be in your future.
Yet, it all started right between your teeth!
The COVID-19 worry
These findings have even more frightening implications in a world rocked by the pandemic.
That’s because those neutrophils are also responsible for releasing cytokines, which result in the cytokine storm that damages lung tissue and kills COVID-19 patients.
So if you’re neutrophils are primed and waiting and Covid hits, you could be at prime risk of a cytokine storm and a severe case of the disease, which is likely why evidence has shown that patients with gum disease “may be much more likely to have negative outcomes with COVID-19.”
Follow your mother’s rules
This means that if you want to protect yourself from everything from diabetes and heart disease to cytokine storm brought on by COVID-19, you’ve got to start with the basics of brushing and flossing your teeth.
Just like your mom always said you should start and end your day by caring for your mouth because good dental health equals good overall health.
But why stop there. In today’s environment, there are a million different things that can cause your immune system to react in a hyperactive way. That’s one reason why autoimmune diseases are on the rise.
An overactive immune system and inflammation go hand in hand. So, in addition to being sure to take good care of your mouth, consider supporting a balanced immune response naturally with:
- Vitamin D, a well-known douser of inflammation.
- Green tea (it’s the catechins that do it!).
- Probiotics, because the gut is central to the immune system.
- Black cumin seed oil (AKA the golden oil of the Nigella sativa plant), studied for its immune system-modulating properties.