Oral infections can contribute to systemic diseases including heart attacks, high blood pressure, diabetes, and many other conditions. These conditions, in turn, often make the oral infections worse. Dr. Nammy explains the cyclic connection between systemic diseases and oral infections.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Dr. Nammy Patel, founder of Green Dentistry in San Francisco, California, helping patients recognize the vital connection between dental health and whole body health. And author of the best-selling books, Age with Style: Guide to a Youthful Smile and Healthy Living, and Total Wellness: Understanding the Link Between Your Teeth and Your Health.
Today, our topic is systemic diseases caused by oral infection. Welcome, Dr. Nammy.
Dr. Nammy Patel: Hi, John. Thank you for having me.
Diseases Caused by Oral Infections
John: Sure. So first of all, Dr. Nammy, what do we mean by an oral infection, and then what are some of the systemic diseases that can be caused by them?
Dr. Nammy: Oral infection, John, means that there are pathogenic bacteria that are in the mouth. So if you think of your mouth, we want it to be a pond. So you have the koi fish, like good bacteria, bad bacteria. Your fungus versus all these different microbiome or e systems, ecological systems that have really good bugs and bad bugs.
And so when there is an oral infection, what we really mean is that the bad bugs have overgrown, whether it be a fungus, whether it be a virus, whether it be bacteria. That overgrowth of that pathogenic material or pathogenic bacteria or virus or fungus, like candida is a problem.
Now when we have that overgrowth, it is related to a lot of systemic diseases because again, you are swallowing. So all this bacteria is going into your body by swallowing mechanism, number one. The second reason it has direct access to your bloodstream is, for example, if you had an overgrowth of bacteria like snake-like bacterias that cause gum disease and now they’re in your gums, your body’s going to want to fight that infection off.
So as it tries to fight that infection off, the first thing that happens is that your blood vessels will thin out. So as they thin, these bacteria have direct access to your bloodstream, so they can actually go inside if there’s too many of them because there’s always a balance going on in your body. Your body is fighting bad bugs or it’s healing, it’s fighting bad bugs or it’s healing. When it’s fighting bad bugs, what it’s doing is the endothelial lining of your blood vessels actually thin out, and when a bacteria gets inside, it creates an immune response.
Now that immune response is, it gets all the platelets to come there, and now platelets is what stops the bleeding. And so these platelets, they get overgrown. In some instances, these bacteria and also platelets can get stuck in your blood vessels. When they get stuck in your blood vessels, that’s what we call strokes or heart attacks.
And so it’s really important that we get these bacteria cleaned up and removed as soon as possible. Now, that’s just one thing that I talked about that’s related to an oral infection that’s linked to a systemic infection.
A lot of patients end up having oral infection as far as a lot of the gum disease, bacterial overgrowth, but that is actually coming from somewhere else. And it could be that they are diabetic, so they don’t have enough reserves to be able to fight these infections off, so these infections are growing. That is another concern. For example if patients have a lot of oral infections due to mouth breathing, they’re not going to get enough nitric oxide. And that nitric oxide is so important in fighting cancer and preventing autoimmune diseases and restoring and healthy aging.
So you can have problems from the mouth be linked to cancer, to hormonal imbalance. It can be linked to ADHD, it can be linked to anxiety, it can be linked to hyperthyroidism. So many different diseases that you will see across the links in between. The mouth is really a gateway to the rest of the body is really what I like to say.
There’s usually five types of bacteria that add havoc in the body because they’re super pathogenic and they’re the snake-like bugs. And the thing about them is that they live in areas where there’s not a lot of oxygen, and that’s what a periodontal pocket is. At the base of the pocket, there’s not a lot of oxygen in there. That’s why these guys survive. Or a root canal abscess, those are these pathogenic bacteria. They are snake-like, and they really attack the body and the immune system and really, really create havoc. Those are the ones that I’m most concerned about.
Now, there’s a lot more that goes with gum disease and other systemic connections as well. But I wanted to point out the few common ones, which are going to be heart attacks, which are going to be sleep apnea or high blood pressure, and also diabetes as well as cancer. And those are the ones that were… The other one that’s really common actually is preterm birth, so high risk pregnancies. A lot of times these bacteria in the gums will actually pass through the placenta and it actually causes early pregnancy or it actually causes termination of the pregnancy.
Because as these bacteria pass through the placenta, the baby is now exposed to these pathogens and sometimes babies aren’t able to fight off the infection quite yet because they’re actually still developing. So that’s a huge concern as well as far as oral systemic connection and how the mouth bacteria cause an insane amount of havoc for the rest of our bodies.
Cyclic Connections Between Oral and Systemic Health
John: It sounds like your oral infections can cause a lot of these other issues in your body and some issues that you have in your body, whether it’s diabetes or something like that, can also then cause problems in your mouth. So they’re all connected and it goes kind of both ways, right?
Dr. Nammy: There are two things, not just causation but correlation. That’s a thing that we want to realize is that because we only focused on correlation before, but we never focused on causation. We’re realizing that it becomes a cyclical factor. It’s like who came first, the chicken or the egg kind of thing. What we’re finding is that a majority of the pre-diabetic patients actually ended up having gum disease in the beginning and then are pre-diabetic now, or are missing teeth. That’s another big reason why there’s a huge increase in diabetes because they’re not able to chew really well with the back teeth or a lot of carbs come into play. And so that increase in sugar, that increase in carbohydrates, ends up increasing sugar levels and insulin resistance, and that’s where we get diabetes from.
There’s a huge correlation and causation that goes between the mouth and the rest of the body, and that’s what we really need to focus our efforts and energies on. And again, so opposite of, “I need to just brush and floss. It’s really that I need to get a better understanding of what’s really going on in my mouth. Because my mouth is telling me way earlier on if I’m going to get a heart attack, or way early on if I’m going to have diabetes, or way earlier on if I’m going to have cancer and things like that.”
Contact Green Dentistry for Help
John: All right. Well that’s really great information, Dr. Nammy. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Dr. Nammy: You’re welcome.
John: And for more information about Green Dentistry, visit the website at sfgreendentist.com or call (415) 433-0119.