The human mouth is full of oral bacteria. We don’t know they are there, as we can’t see them or taste them, but scientists have identified more than 700 different strains of oral bacteria. However, most people only have a few dozen different varieties in their mouths. The majority of these bacteria are harmless and some are even helpful. However, studies link others to serious health problems that go far beyond your teeth.
Oral Bacteria and Cavities
The bacteria that live in our mouths are alive. These bacteria feed off of the sugars and starches that are left behind when we eat. The waste products these bacteria create creates a biofilm that forms dental plaque. The acids made by this process eventually wear down the enamel of your teeth and cause cavities. Oral bacteria also cause gum disease, gingivitis, and periodontitis. This can lead to infected gums and even bone loss. Gum disease causes gums to become red and inflamed. Gums also become sensitive and may bleed while you are brushing your teeth.
Oral Bacteria Linked to Four Major Diseases
The bacteria that live in your mouth have an impact on far more than just your dental health. Oral bacteria affect your overall health. Some are good for us. For example, some bacteria found in the human mouth are also probiotics, which aid in proper digestion. However, some bacteria can have negative effects that can affect your entire body. Studies have found that Alzheimer’s, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke are all linked to oral bacteria.
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) School of Medicine and Dentistry in England looked at the brain tissue of 20 patients. Ten of these patients had dementia and the other ten did not. When examining the donated tissue, researchers found gum disease bacteria in four of the people with dementia. Researchers found no gum disease in the brain tissue of those who did not have dementia. Because these bacteria can enter the bloodstream, that transports them to anywhere else in the body.
“This new research indicates a possible association between gum disease and individuals who may be susceptible to developing Alzheimer’s disease if exposed to the appropriate trigger,” said Dr. Crean, who is the dean at the School of Medicine and Dentistry. “Research currently underway at UCLan is playing an active role in exploring this link, but it remains to be proven whether poor dental hygiene can lead to dementia in healthy people, which obviously could have significant implications for the population as a whole. It is also likely that these bacteria could make the existing disease condition worse.”
2. Heart disease
According to a review article published in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers have found that there is a definite link between oral infections, which are caused by the bacteria in our mouth, and heart disease.
“Given the high prevalence of oral infections, any risk they contribute to future cardiovascular disease is important to public health,” says senior author Thomas Van Dyke of the Forsyth Institute. “Unravelling the role of the oral microbiome and inflammation in cardiovascular disease will likely lead to new preventive and treatment approaches.”
Both oral infections, such as periodontal disease, and heart disease have an undeniable inflammatory component.
“New discoveries of natural pathways that resolve inflammation have offered many opportunities for revealing insights into disease pathogenesis and for developing new pharmacologic targets for the treatment of both oral infections and cardiovascular disease,” Van Dyke added.
3. High blood pressure
Researchers linked the presence of oral bacteria and the gum diseases it causes to high blood pressure. Studies have found that patients with severe periodontitis also have hypertension. According to studies, higher levels of oral bacteria correlate with increases in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, indicating a direct relationship between periodontitis and hypertension.
“Although this subject may require further study, the association between hypertension and periodontitis is reminiscent of the link periodontal disease shares with other systemic conditions, including diabetes and heart disease,” says Dr. Joan Otomo-Corgel, president of the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP), which publishes the Journal of Periodontology. “Literature continues to support the idea that what affects a person’s mouth can affect his or her body and vice versa. Taking care of your teeth and gums is as essential to a healthy lifestyle as diet and exercise.”
Researchers at the National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center in Osaka, Japan, found that the presence of the oral bacteria (cnm-positive Streptococcus mutans) links to certain types of strokes. According to the study, 26 percent of the patients who experienced intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH) were found to have this specific bacterium in their saliva. However, only six percent of patients with other types of strokes tested positive for the bacterium.
“This study shows that oral health is important for brain health. People need to take care of their teeth because it is good for their brain and their heart as well as their teeth,” said Robert P. Friedland, M.D., the Mason C. and Mary D. Rudd Endowed Chair and Professor in Neurology at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. “The study and related work in our labs have shown that oral bacteria are involved in several kinds of stroke, including brain hemorrhages and strokes that lead to dementia.”
Fighting Oral Bacteria Protects Your Overall Health
Brushing your teeth twice a day reduces the number of oral bacteria that are present in your mouth. And don’t forget to floss at least once a day. Seeing your dentist regularly can also help remove plaque and prevent gum disease. Clearly, these bacteria threaten much more than just your smile. Keeping your teeth and gums healthy keeps you healthier overall and even reduces your risk of serious cardiovascular diseases. Who knew that such a little thing could have such a big impact on your health? So take care of those pearly whites, your heart and brain will both thank you.