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Before the development of antibiotics, serious dental infections were pretty much a death sentence. Are they still today? Somehow, during the evolution of modern medicine, we came to view dental health and the rest of the body as completely separate systems. However, emerging research shows strong links between poor oral health and chronic inflammation, cancer, cardiovascular disease and more. I’ve written about these findings in previous articles, and new research continues to bridge the gap between our understanding of oral health and its effects on the rest of the body.
Healthy Teeth, Healthy Brain
Poor dental and oral health isn’t just a risk factor for chronic, long-term diseases such as cancer; an acute dental infection can actually kill you, even in our age of modern medicine. In fact, a recent report demonstrated a significant increase in the rates of high-risk dental infections that can potentially spread to the brain, seriously jeopardizing the lives of seemingly healthy people.
In this analysis, a number of people who were admitted to hospitals for dental abscess between 2000 and 2008 died before doctors could address the infection completely. Bottom line: If you have a toothache, particularly in your upper teeth, it’s critical to see a dentist right away and not wait for an infection to potentially spread to your brain. In addition, an immune-boosting regimen of healthy foods and immune-supporting supplements can help fight the harmful bacteria.
Correlations to other diseases are emerging as well. For example, scientists recently demonstrated a link between poor oral health and the development of Alzheimer’s disease, the deadly form of dementia that is skyrocketing to epidemic proportions. In this study, researchers uncovered the presence of the bacteria Porphyromonas gingivalis in brain samples from patients who died of Alzheimer’s disease. This type of bacteria is a prime culprit in periodontal disease. Another, earlier study suggested a link between gum disease and dementia.
Other Risks Found
New cancer connections have also emerged. Recent research showed that mouth bacteria called Fusobacteria can trigger hyperreactive immune responses that activate genes responsible for colorectal tumor growth. The correlations between mouth bacteria and bowel cancer had been observed in the past. These studies shed light on the mechanisms involved and further our understanding of how to potentially treat these life-threatening diseases.
Another recent study showed that oral HPV viral infections (human papillomavirus) were related to poor oral health. Oral HPV is a leading cause of mouth and throat cancer.
We all know the importance of a healthy, nutrient-dense diet for maintaining good oral and dental health and for keeping immunity running strong. Avoiding sweeteners, refined foods and carbonated drinks is essential. Foods high in antioxidants are important for maintaining gum health and reducing inflammation.
In particular, there are three supplements I recommend to control the inflammation and bacteria associated with plaque and gum disease. A Tibetan Herbal Formula that contains an abundance of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory herbs is shown in clinical research to combat gum inflammation and reduce the need for root canals. Modified citrus pectin (MCP) also does an excellent job of reducing inflammation. MCP binds to an inflammatory protein called galectin-3, which has been implicated in both heart disease and cancer. Another excellent botanical is honokiol extract from Magnolia bark. It has been shown to fight periodontal bacteria, reduce inflammation and provide powerful antioxidant support. Honokiol is also shown in preclinical research to protect against Alzheimer’s disease and inflammation in the brain. These supplements have been shown in clinical and preclinical research to help protect against cancer, inflammation and other chronic illnesses.
For many years, the relationship between teeth and health was poorly understood. However, a number of studies have shown that we neglect oral health at great risk; so we need to get out of the mindset that the mouth and the rest of our body are somehow separate. Like everything else in our bodies, they are interrelated. In other words, brushing and flossing do more than preserve our teeth; they could be lifesavers.