Gingivitis, the Gut, and Crucial Health Messages in your Mouth
As a dentist, I would often dread removing the last teeth from a person’s dentition. No one wants to lose any teeth, yet, I would see patients in their 30s and 40s with such severe periodontal disease, I would need to extract their last teeth.
How have we let that become a reality?
Every day, I would see the earlier stages of the problem. Bleeding gums become receding gums which result in loose, infected teeth. While I would tell them to brush and floss better, it just didn’t work very well. Neither did periodontal treatment; some patients would respond, others not so well.
For a long time, I felt helpless in advising my patients on gum disease. That’s why today, I’m going to tell you how bleeding gums, the gut, joints, bones and immune system are all connected. Bleeding gums is the canary in the coal-mine of your entire body.
Oral signs of autoimmunity
Gum disease and auto-immune disease (AID) are like two peas in a pod. Rheumatoid arthritis, which is an AID where antibodies attack the joints, is often c to gum disease. People with fewer teeth have worse prognosis and severity of rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers discuss the likeness of oral tissue and joints. However, what’s been missed is the common origin of the two. Auto-immune share a known co-morbidity. In that, if you have an auto-immune disease, you’re far more likely to have another.
The close link between RA and gum disease means the early signs of gum disease should sound the alarm bells of auto-immune risks. Other autoimmune conditions also have primary signs in the mouth
- Sjögren’s syndrome, which presents with dry mouth is an AI condition targeting the saliva glands
- Oral lichen planus is a white film that shows up on the cheeks and tongue and relates to gastric cells.
- Crohn’s disease and celiac disease both have oral manifestations such as oral ulcers, tooth enamel deformations, and tongue discoloration.
Using celiac disease as an example. Tooth discoloration in children can be an early signal of gluten sensitivity, whereas most people can take ten years to diagnose. The warning signs of AID through oral diagnosis may save years of disease.
The Mouth-Gut Axis: Gums as an extension of your digestive system
Despite 85% of people having some form of gum disease, and skyrocketing digestive disorder, my training never crossed with gastrointestinal specialists. The mouth is separated from the idea of overall body health. This is true for dental and health practitioners, but also how we see disease.
Research has revealed the link between gum disease and systemic and lifestyle factors for decades. From smoking to type-II diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis to pre-term birth. Dental and medical professionals act in isolation to clean the gum pockets and treat symptoms of systemic problems.
A re-classification of auto-immune disease?
Gum disease is the body literally attacking the tissues that hold the teeth in place. Should it be classified as an auto-immune disease itself?
As the direct communicator to the gut, the mouth-gut axis is as strong as ever. Probiotic bacteria that live in the mouth protect us against dental disease as they manage the gut, metabolism, and immune system. Collagen and bone balance in the mouth, underlie the same in our gut lining, the bones, and joints all over the body.
A future of food, great teeth, and healthy guts
The oral-systemic link shows that we can no longer treat diseases in isolation. We need to see that the body is undeniably connected, and all systems work in tandem with each other. It also shows that nutritional principles that can heal the mouth will have an impact all over the body. Today, my practice is nourished with the principles of dental nutrition. We should have never separated the idea of dental health and dietary guidelines. Food is the ultimate medicine. It’s time to set that mistake right.
Dr. Steven Lin is a dentist, TEDx Speaker, and author of The Dental Diet; The Surprising Link between your Teeth, Real Food, and Life-Changing Natural Health. Order the book on Amazon today to start the delicious 40-day meal plan and heal your mouth, body, and mind.