During this cold and flu season, our thoughts turn to keeping ourselves and families safe and healthy.
The mouth, being a part of our body, is a very special place. It is the entry into the body and is equipped with mechanisms to keep us protected. The main function of the mouth, aside from speech and smiling is chewing and moistening food in preparation for swallowing, but also keeping us safe.
One thing that makes the mouth a special place and you may have notice that already, is that things don’t usually hurt until it is really late. This is due to protective mechanisms that allow us to be able to eat despite issues such as chipped teeth, broken cusps, missing teeth, chronic inflammation, teeth mobility, gum recession but even gums or teeth infections. Still because of adaptive mechanisms we survive and we can accept food. The mouth, sometimes referred to as the oral cavity, contains more than 800 species of bacteria, viruses, and fungus. It is known that even one tooth can contain millions and millions of bacteria. And in an unclean mouth there are billions upon billions of bacteria, viruses and funguses. Our body reacts to the presence of the bacteria by undergoing a process called the immune response. In the case of an unclean mouth the immune response may become overwhelmed resulting in chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation presents as gum swelling, tenderness, bleeding on flossing, or receding gums. Although these symptoms may be present long time and many consider this as part of the aging process, those all are signs and symptoms of gum disease. At early stages, gum disease is reversible and is called gingivitis. If allowed to progress, the gum disease becomes not reversible and is termed as periodontitis, a chronic inflammatory disease. It is important to treat and eliminate chronic inflammation or periodontitis because it results in destruction of the bone and gums that surround the teeth.
Although the chronic disease periodontitis does not typically hurt (because our body is equipped to withstand it as a survival mechanism) it can be dangerous to our health and immune system. When pain does come it is usually because the disease has reached an advanced stage. At late stages of the disease treatments are more difficult and costly, or in the worse cases teeth have to be removed.
The body is constantly fighting the presence of the bacteria, viruses, and fungus in a process called the immune response. Your bodies’ white blood cells originate in the bone marrow space and are released into the blood stream in response to signals that the body is being infected by bacteria, viruses, or funguses. One such white blood cell at the forefront of the immune response is called the neutrophil. It is the bodies ‘first responder’ to infection. When the mouth senses that a germ is present, local cells in the tissues sense their presence and release signals into the blood stream to recruit white blood cells to the site of infection. In the process of fighting the bacterial the white blood cells release substances that result in chronic inflammation. We see that the chronic inflammatory process is present by observing bleeding or swollen gums, bad taste, mouth odor or bad breath, or tooth mobility.
Each individual’s immune response has its limits: it is finite. The body can do only so much to fight infection in the body, say in the lungs, throat, or nasal passages, when the body is also busy battling infection in the oral cavity. Fewer resources are available when the individual is challenged by say a respiratory virus. The body’s resources may need to shift focus to a new source of infection but meanwhile the gums remain inflamed and may even worsen, drawing needlessly on the individuals’ immune response capacity. If the gums are kept clean through treatment and good homecare, a healthy body has more resources to fight infections elsewhere. So during the flu and cold season outbreaks it is of utmost importance to keep your teeth and gums healthy, especially those with underlying chronic disease, compromised immune function, or who are elderly.
You can do a lot at home such as practicing daily oral hygiene (brushing teeth 2 to 3 times a day using a WaterPik twice a day to powerwash the area around the gumline of each tooth) but the most effective way is to have a professional cleaning by a dentist who uses a laser. The Nd:YAG PerioLase laser is a very powerful tool that uses light energy to penetrate the gum line up to 8 mm and virtually eliminates bacteria, viruses and fungus, effectively clearing the inflammation and allow for healing. When the gums are healthy, our immune system is more available to fight problems elsewhere in the body. We use Laser Pocket Disinfection to help patients stay healthy and to preserve their teeth.