We’ve long known—or at least suspected—that there is a connection between oral infections and systemic illness. The famous dentist Westin Price postulated at the turn of the century that this was due to focal infections: the bacteria in the mouth actually travel to other parts of the body and create new infections there. This was dismissed until the theory revived around the 1980s.
Now we know that there is indeed a relationship between oral infections, and especially periodontitis (gum disease) and systemic illness— but we’re not entirely clear on the mechanisms. Mechanisms on the table include Dr Price’s original focal infection theory (substantiated by the presence of oral bacteria in cardiovascular plaques, for instance), and another indirect theory: that is, periodontal disease triggers inflammation, which in turn sets the patient up for other chronic inflammatory conditions.
Diseases Associated with Periodontitis
Those systemic illnesses associated in the literature with periodontitis include:
- Atherosclerosis (Heart Disease)
- Adverse pregnancy outcomes
- Pneumonia and possibly COPD
- Some cancers — and specifically pancreatic cancer
- Chronic Kidney Disease
Keep Your Gums Healthy
Given the fact that half of all adult Americans have periodontal disease, according to the CDC, what can be done?
There’s certainly the obvious: brush, floss, and greatly minimize or eliminate processed sugar. A few other favorite treatments include CoQ10 (very important for gum health), and even chewable probiotics to help maintain the good flora in the mouth. This helps to crowd out the bad stuff.
But I’d also propose one more ancient Ayurvedic technique: oil pulling. It’s simple, easy to do once you make it a habit, and surprisingly substantiated in the literature—even improving gum scores within as few as seven days of use.