If you’ve been putting off regular trips to the dentist, you may be risking more than just a cavity or a root canal.
In fact, previous research has shown that, from heart disease to diabetes, an unhealthy mouth can be reflected in your overall health and may even be the cause behind systemic disease.
Now, a new study has proven that if you’ve been ignoring your teeth and gums, you could be setting yourself up for inflammation of your gut lining and the diseases that come with it, including Crohn’s disease and even ulcerative colitis.
Here’s the connection you’ve probably never heard of between the bacteria in your mouth and your chances of developing inflammatory bowel disease…
The mass migration of bacteria that leads to disease
The research out of the University of Michigan Medical and Dental Schools builds on previous studies looking at the role of the gut microbiome — a collection of bacteria that are normally present in the gut — and its connection to your health.
The researchers realized that a link was forming between an overgrowth of foreign bacterial species in the guts of people with inflammatory bowel disease (or IBD) and bacteria that are normally found in the mouth.
This led them to ask the question of whether and how oral disease affects the severity of gastrointestinal diseases. And the team’s study in mice led to some surprising (and worrisome) answers, especially for those of us who don’t put enough emphasis on caring for our teeth and gums.
The researchers discovered that if you have a buildup of bad bacteria in your mouth, it can worsen gut inflammation in two ways…
#1 — Taking a trip to the gut
First, they found that gum disease (periodontitis) leads to an imbalance in the normal healthy microbiome found in your mouth and significantly increases the number of bacteria that cause inflammation.
And once these bad bacteria colonize your mouth, they don’t simply stay there to wreak havoc on your oral health, they also travel to your gut to cause disease there.
However, even the transfer of bacteria from your mouth to your gut alone isn’t the worst of it…
According to study leader Nobuhiko Kamada, Ph.D., “The normal gut microbiome resists colonization by exogenous, or foreign, bacteria. However, in mice with IBD, the healthy gut bacteria are disrupted, weakening their ability to resist disease-causing bacteria from the mouth.”
The team found that mice with both oral and gut inflammation had significantly increased weight loss and more disease activity.
#2 — Activating immune cells
If that weren’t bad enough, the researchers also discovered that gum disease results in a secondary cascade to exacerbate inflammation even further. They found that periodontitis activates your immune system’s T cells in the mouth and they also travel to your gut taking things from bad to worse.
Once these inflammatory T cells hit your gut, they trigger your gut’s immune response and level up the disease.
Preventing gum disease
Clearly, if you want to avoid inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, caring for your teeth and gums should be at the top of your to-do list.
If you’re already experiencing signs of gum disease, like red, swollen or bleeding gums, bad breath, sensitive teeth or receding gums, be sure to see your dentist right away for a deep cleaning.
Then, resolve to get super serious about:
- Brushing your teeth after meals
- Flossing at least one time per day
- Using a mouthwash
- Eating a healthy, low-sugar diet
But as we’ve learned more over the last few years about the role of bacteria in the human body, especially the gut, this study only enforces the importance of bacterial balance everywhere — including your mouth.
Just as it’s a good idea to take probiotics for your gut, you should also think about keeping the bacteria in your mouth in check…
Oral probiotics have entered the supplement market and it may be a good idea to give them a try. Or you can do as my colleague Virginia Tims-Lawson recommends. Peak Organic Alkalizing Greens™ is a delicious greens powder drink mix that’s specially formulated with organic superfoods and super nutrients — and it contains a probiotic blend. But this is oral care that you can swallow after you swish. Virginia suggests preparing your greens drink with water (for this purpose) and swishing a couple of mouthfuls around before swallowing.
And for additional help in your battle against periodontitis and the inflammatory bowel disease it can cause, check out these four supplements that fight aging and gum disease.
- Could the cure for IBD be inside your mouth? — EurekAlert!