How a Healthy Immune System Is Connected to Healthy Gums
by Dr Richard Barry
The mouth is the opening to many joys in our lives. Our complex oral and periodontal system helps us eat delicious foods, stay hydrated, talk to friends and family, and even breathe in the air.
But you may not know that the mouth is full of vibrant bacteria at all times. These bacteria are considered “good” bacteria, specifically known as normal flora, that help protect the mouth from outside threats and damage. Saliva works to protect the mouth too, by neutralizing harmful acids and breaking down food.
The mouth can be particularly vulnerable, as well. Along with the nose, the mouth is one of the primary openings through which bacteria and viruses can enter. Bacteria can enter the throat, lungs, teeth, or even the gums, and can proceed to infect other areas of the body, leading to the potential for advanced infections.
Fortunately, there have been strong evidence-based connections that protecting one’s oral health, especially nurturing healthy gums, can also lead to a healthy immune system. A healthy immune system can prevent someone from getting, or getting severely sick from, bacterial infections.
First, it is important to understand the steps and foundation behind oral health.
A few important steps to help protect your oral health are listed below:
Brushing your teeth at least twice per day with fluoride-containing toothpaste
Flossing your teeth, preferably daily
Brushing your gums and tongue, preferably daily
Reaching the back of your mouth when brushing
Attending regular dental appointments, at least every 6 months
Reducing consumption of food and drink that damages tooth enamel
Treating tooth cavities, decay, damage, or infections
When you don’t protect your oral health, you’re at higher risk of bacterial infections, as mentioned earlier. Bacteria can enter through the mouth, leading to lung infections (pneumonia), heart infections (endocarditis), or cardiovascular disease. There are typically other factors that must come into play to lead to such advanced infections and diseases, however, many people have no idea that poor oral health can lead to heart disease.
Oral health can also be made more difficult if you have diabetes, are pregnant, have a weakened immune system, have osteoporosis, have dementia or Alzheimer’s, is immobile or bed-ridden, are severely ill, or cannot perform their own dental care.
Due to its connectedness to the whole body, oral health should always be prioritized when it is possible.
Fortunately, there are dental professionals, including the team at Lifetime Dental Health, who can help you to accomplish dental hygiene goals.
What is the Immune System?
The immune system is a combination of bodily features that protect the body from disease and sickness, such as bacterial invaders. There are many parts to the immune system, including external barriers and internal protective measures.
The skin is the first line of defense. Thick skin cells and antibacterial secretions from the skin prevent bacteria from entering the body
The mucosal lining of the mouth is another external barrier. Mucus is secreted by the epithelial cells of the throat to trap bacteria. Cilia, little hair-like projections from the throat, also trap bacteria. Together, these barriers push bacteria out of the body
Internal Protective measures:
Bone Marrow creates immune cells, such as lymphocytes, macrophages, B cell antibodies, T cells, and more. These immune cells are innately wired to fight off bacteria.
Immune cells are also enriched in the spleen, which helps bolster their ability to fight.
Next, immune cells need to find their way to the infected areas of the body. Sometimes immune cells travel via the bloodstream, but more often, immune cells travel via the lymphatic system.
The lymphatic system acts like a highway, similar to the vascular system of blood, that allows immune cells to travel around the body. Lymph cells and lymph fluid live within this system, ready to fight off infections at any time. When bacterial infections occur in the body, lymph nodes can become swollen via a process called inflammation. This allows the swollen area to expand in size, creating room for the incoming immune cells.
How Healthy Gums Boost the Immune System
Keeping one’s gums healthy can have a very positive effect on the immune system. If a person has healthy gums, it is a sign that they have been practicing good oral hygiene and that there are no periodontal infections present.
Healthy gums will appear as normal-sized and pink, without any swelling. When gums become swollen, especially chronically swollen, or red, this is a sign that gums are unhealthy. The body’s immune system responds to bacteria through inflammation of gum tissue because all of the immune system’s internal protective measures must arrive at the location where bacteria are and begin fighting the infection.
Redness, swelling, and bleeding can be signs of this internal fight between the immune system and bacteria in unhealthy gums.
So in order to keep the immune system healthy and happy, it is important to protect one’s gums.
Some habits to keep gums healthy include:
Use a soft-bristled toothbrush
Replace your toothbrush at least every 3 months
Do not forget to floss and/or use mouthwash to remove food particles between the gums. Floss at least once daily if possible. Do not press floss too forcefully into your gums, or you might cause damage
Reduce the number of sugary foods and “added sugar” foods in your diet
Avoid tobacco use if possible
If you would like to come to Lifetime Dental Health for a cleaning or a regular check-up of your gums, please contact us today.