Dental maintenance

Dental inflammation and immune health

Over the years, studies have clearly demonstrated that infections in the mouth are linked to an increased incidence of heart disease, strokes and preterm and low-weight newborns. Google the connection between gum disease and systemic health, and the evidence is not hard to find.

However, despite all the available information and evidence on the tie-in between dentistry and overall health, why isn’t there more talk about it?

Especially since the mouth is so accessible and so responsive to simple things that can be done daily to improve oral health. While routine maintenance and work done in the dental office may also be involved, there are many things that can be done at home DIY-style, not only to improve oral health but systemic health as well. A recent study on flossing demonstrates that it can increase life expectancy by more than 6 years!

Most people will agree that inflammation of their intestinal lining is not a good thing. It can lead to Irritable Bowel Syndrome, SIBO and Crohn’s Disease or even worse. So what’s the difference between inflammation in your intestines and inflammation in your mouth?

Very little, actually. However, one very basic and important difference is the relative absence of symptoms until the gum disease is advanced. Unlike IBS, where there can be pain, loss of function, soreness or swelling, gum disease offers little motivation to seek help until the disease has progressed.

This presents a difficulty because, if there are no symptoms or pain to alert you that there’s an issue, then you don’t realize there’s a problem. Even if your dentist suggests that there is. It’s simply human nature. If there is no pain, then there is no incentive for a change in habits. And good home care and routine dental care are habits.

Maybe they are inconvenient, but nevertheless, they are habits. Most people do realize that oral health is important to overall health, but few would change their habits because of it. It’s so easy to ignore what doesn’t hurt! Here is a picture of gum inflammation:

Red inflamed gums

There can be evidence looking back at you in the mirror every morning! If you have red inflamed gums, it’s due to bacteria feeding on the white film on your teeth called plaque. If this plaque is not removed on a daily basis, these microbes cause inflammation in your gums as your body tries to fight off the invading bacteria. If left unchecked, this bacteria gains access to your bloodstream. If your gums bleed when you floss or go to the dentist that is exactly what is happening.

Bacteria leaking into your bloodstream takes a toll on your immune system because it’s going on 24/7. That is why gum disease and gum inflammation can result in higher incidence of heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, arthritis, diabetes and birth issues. The likelihood of heart disease increases by 2x in the presence of gum disease!

If a special camera could show you the lining of your intestine, and you could see inflammation there, would you change your routines? Likewise, if that camera could show you inflammation caused by plaquing in the epithelial lining of your blood vessels, would you change your diet, lifestyle and exercise patterns?

So why not change your habits like flossing when you see inflammation in the gums around your teeth? Now that you know that inflammation is not normal and strains your immune system in an already toxic world, are you willing to make some changes?

The good news is that home hygiene doesn’t have to be hard or time-consuming. In fact, most people can do a great job in just 3-5 minutes a day! That’s it. It’s just a matter of knowing what to do and having the right tools. That’s why I have put together an instructional guide on the simple things you can do at home that will improve the health of your mouth along with your overall health. Additionally, some things you can purchase over the counter (or online at will make your home hygiene routine more effective.

Carey O’Rielly, DDS is a holistic dentist practicing in Encinitas. He can be reached at 760-632-1304. Read more of his “Holistic Dentistry” column here

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