Your immune system works hard to keep your body healthy, including your smile. When bacteria or disease threaten your body, the immune system does its best to keep everything working as it should.
Even though your immune system is best known for helping you avoid or recover from a sickness, the immune system also plays a role in your oral health. In turn, your oral health may also affect your immune system.
But what exactly do we know about the link between oral health and immunity? Dentists have long said that the health of the oral cavity is a window into the health of the entire body. Your teeth and gums can reveal nutritional deficiencies, infection, and even systemic diseases.
Here’s what research has confirmed about your immune system and dental health, as well as what links we still have yet to understand.
Systemic Inflammation and Your Dental Health
Inflammation in the body may reveal itself in the oral cavity. For instance, periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, creates an immune response in the oral cavity that could be linked to systemic inflammation.
While no causal link has been proven, researchers suspect that the relationship between the active infection seen in gum disease and its toll on the immune system can affect the body in different ways.
When the body has to fight off the bacteria and infection of advancing gum disease, the immune system can’t give 100 percent of its efforts to other inflammatory responses throughout the body. This could affect your health through:
- Potential heart problems. Chronic inflammation such as that seen in gum disease can influence your risk for cardiovascular complications. People with periodontal disease have two to three times the risk of experiencing a major cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke than people with healthy gum tissue.
While the link here isn’t exactly clear, different systems of the body affect one another. While gum disease may be affecting the oral cavity, the inflammatory response it creates could affect your heart health and even your cognitive health.
- Cognitive health. Other research has linked bacteria in gum disease to Alzheimer’s disease. The bacteria P. gingivalis, which is associated with gum disease, has been found in tissues and saliva in Alzheimer’s patients—and research has shown that these bacteria may actually contribute to the death of brain neurons.
This is yet another example of how your smile influences the rest of your body. We are also still understanding the link between the immune system and Alzheimer’s—so the bacteria in your oral cavity, your immune system, and your cognitive health may all be more connected than you think!
Your Immune Response May Increase Risk for Tooth Decay
New research is showing that your immune system’s response to gum disease could affect your risk for tooth decay.
The culprit is a type of white blood cell called a neutrophil. Neutrophils play a vital role in fighting the infection we see in periodontal disease, which is good thing. However, neutrophils in action can produce bacteria in your oral cavity that could increase your risk for dental caries.
Why is this?
What happens is that the neutrophils produce an acidic reaction in their defense of periodontal disease, which heightens the chances that your tooth enamel would be damaged. When tooth enamel is worn away, it can lead to sensitive teeth, an increased risk for cavities, and tooth discoloration.
Tooth decay and gum disease often exist together, and this new evidence could explain the reason behind their coexistence. Without resolving one, the other may be unlikely to get resolved as well.
The State of Your Immune System Can Impact Oral Health
Just as an oral health condition such as periodontal disease can tax the immune system, so can a problem with your immune system affect your dental health.
Your immune system doesn’t remain in optimal condition all the time. Many of us experience stress, chronic inflammation, and even systemic health conditions that affect our immunity. How does all this affect your oral health?
- Immunocompromised people may be more at risk for oral health problems. People living with autoimmune disorders or HIV may be more at risk for oral health issues such as periodontal disease and even infections such as oral thrush.
- People with diabetes may have complications with gum disease. Did you know that periodontal disease can make it more difficult for people living with diabetes to get their blood sugar under control? Due to the relationship between diabetes and the immune system, people living with this health condition are more susceptible to infection, which can not only make gum disease more likely, but also more challenging to treat.
How Can You Keep Your Immune System and Your Smile Healthy?
Your immune system works hard to keep you healthy, but, as we’ve seen, your oral health can play a role in its effectiveness. So how can you do your part to take care of both your oral health and your immune system to help them one support the other?
- Eat a healthy diet. A balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and veggies can help you get all the nutrients you need to protect your body and your smile. Vitamin C, calcium, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids are all essential players when it comes to the health of your teeth and gums.
- Keep your teeth and gums clean. Daily brushing and flossing will help remove bacteria that can contribute to both tooth decay and gum disease. Your Asheville dentist can help ensure that you’re taking proper care of your teeth and gums for best results!
- Don’t smoke or use tobacco. Smoking not only impacts your immune system, but can increase your risk for gum disease and oral cancer as well. Using any form of tobacco can dramatically impact both the health and appearance of your smile!
- Visit your dentist and primary care doctor. Your dentist in Asheville and your regular physician are both important parts of taking care of yourself. Regular checkups every six months with your dentist and at least once a year with your doctor can help you take excellent care of your body and your smile for a complete health plan.
We’re Here to Help
At Saunders DDS, we’re here to support a comprehensive care plan for your smile. As we navigate the COVID-19 crisis together, our doctors and staff are here to answer your questions, help you book an appointment, and offer the support you need to keep your teeth and gums as healthy as possible. When your oral health impacts more than just your smile, it makes sense to do everything you can to keep your teeth and gums healthy. Call us at (828) 277-6060 or reach out to us online!