Modern dentistry has made mending teeth a common and relatively easy thing. You get a cavity, you head out to the dentist and it gets fixed. A tooth breaks and it can be easily replaced. But teeth trouble goes well beyond what the dentist can do for them because they say more about your overall heath.
For examples, studies have shown that the risk for heart disease increases with the number of teeth lost. The reason for this is that researchers believe that some people get heart disease not because of clogged arteries, but due to inflammation.
This is where your teeth, or more importantly where your gums come in. Gum disease, or what dentists call “periodontal disease”, raises your chances of having heart disease by 19%. This risk increases with age. After age 65, the risk rises to 44%. (Sok-Ja et. al)
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What Teeth Tell Us
There is an old saying for buying a new horse: “Always check the teeth.” Teeth can tell you a lot about the health of a horse and of humans as well. Nutritional deficiencies, poor digestion, and weak immunity all show up on our teeth and gums.
Some people have stronger immune systems. The work of the dentist Weston A. Price in the 1930’s discovered that there were many traditional societies that did not experience cavities, did not need braces and had excellent oral health. What he found through his research and travels was that diet played a huge role in oral health.
As these traditional societies moved away from their normal diets and ate more Western style diets, they fell prey to poor oral health and degenerative diseases. (Price)
Every day we rebuild ourselves with the food we eat, and if we are not taking in the appropriate nutrients in the right amounts it will eventually weaken all the systems of the body.
Women have an additional challenge with pregnancy and nursing. If a woman does not have adequate amounts of nutrients in her body during pregnancy, the body will release stores from the bones and teeth. This is where we get the saying that a woman loses a tooth for every child.
Heart of Matter
Not everyone with the well-known, well-accepted risk factors (smoking, obesity, high serum cholesterol, and hypertension) develop coronary artery disease, so there must be some other factors at play. Dr. Sebastian Ciancio, Doctor of Dental Surgery, states that factors like diet and stress may trigger “a hyper-inflammatory state” and “this predisposes the individual to develop both atherosclerosis and periodontitis.”
The human mouth, like the rest of the body, is teeming with non-native organisms, or ‘passengers’. Some of these passengers are just along for the ride, some are helping us out, while others are just a bunch of troublemakers. The last sort is a drain to our immune system. When we have an abundance of cavities, it means that we have many pathogenic passengers and that oral hygiene is compromised.
So what is the problem with that? Can’t we just set off to the dentist and have it all fixed up? True enough, but that is only a cosmetic fix, it does not clean out the blood that is now infected with bacteria.
That infected blood does not stay confined to your mouth; it passes to and through your heart with very few other organs to infect along the way. This continual flow of bacteria-laden blood is continually shuttled by your heart and your immune system.
This constant exposure can trigger the immune system to start an inflammatory cascade. This is where your body causes cells and tissues to become inflamed in an effort to literally block a pathogen from getting by.
The body does this in response to injury or infection. This is a very good thing. However, when this is overused it can cause all types of problems in the body – one being heart disease. This can happen because the inflammation caused by a bacterial infection causes the arteries to become narrow.
Researchers found that people who were missing nine teeth or less, had 44 % arterial plaque and those missing between 10-19 teeth had 61%. After missing 20 teeth, the incidence of plaque buildup in the arteries did not increase (Gilbert). Although the missing teeth were the most obvious indication, it is gum health that is more important.
Tooth loss could have been avoided if more attention was paid to the health of the gums. The signs of gingivitis and periodontal disease many times are present before the pain of tooth decay. Bleeding and sore, tender gums are all early signs of poor oral health.
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