Oral Health Prevents Systemic DiseaseMarch 2017
By Michael Downey
We often overlook the health of our teeth and gums as a strategy to protect against a wide range of diseases.1
Studies published in 2015 and 2016 confirm that poor oral health can result in disorders ranging from stroke and pancreatic cancer to obesity.2-7
Brushing alone is not always sufficient to keep your mouth free of disease.
Researchers have identified natural compounds that can be used as topical oral agents (inside the mouth) to support dental and whole-body health.8-14
These compounds help safeguard against periodontal disease—which affects about 70% of adult Americans aged 65 years and older.15 By using toothpaste and other oral products that contain these ingredients, risks of diseases originating in the mouth should be lowered.
Oral Health Affects the Whole Body
Common diseases can be worsened by poor oral health. Taking care of your mouth is an important part of a longevity program.
Gingivitis is an inflammatory response that affects the gums. When gums and bones that support the teeth are affected, it is called periodontitis.
Chronic oral inflammation is now linked to numerous systemic disorders:5,6,16-25
In 2016, researchers published an investigation into tooth-brushing and body-size, involving 15,666 individuals. They reported that the risk of obesity, abdominal obesity, and high percentage of body fat was higher in individuals with a lower daily frequency of tooth brushing and usage of secondary oral products.6
This supports an earlier study finding significant correlations between body composition and periodontal disease which concluded that “…periodontal disease and certain obesity-related systemic illnesses are related…”26
Periodontitis, the disease of the gums and bones, induces inflammatory cytokines and may contribute to obesity by elevating C-reactive protein,27-29 which in turn causes fat cells (adipocytes) to store more fat and burn less energy.
A study released November 2016 in the International Journal of Cancer suggested that periodontal disease is a risk factor for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.30 Also in 2016, three other studies found that periodontal disease increased the risk of developing colorectal,31 lung,32 and pancreatic cancer.2
This pancreatic cancer link mirrors a number of previous studies. For example, Harvard researchers found a history of periodontal disease increased pancreatic cancer risk.4 And an 18-year study on over 48,000 men found significant associations between oral health status and pancreatic cancer, as well as lung, kidney, and blood cancers.5
This latter study also found a link between periodontal disease and greater overall risk of cancer—even in those who’ve never smoked.5
Heart Disease and Stroke
Two 2016 studies found an association between diagnosed periodontitis and the risk of ischemic stroke3 and of mortality from all causes including cardiovascular-disease.33
A 26-year study published in 2015 concluded that gingival inflammation is associated with stroke risk and that “results emphasize the role of oral health personnel in prevention (of stroke).”7
An earlier review concluded that periodontal disease among older people correlates with increased risk of systemic diseases—including heart attack, stroke, and diabetes mellitus.34
Individuals with periodontal disease have elevated blood levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker linked to increased risk for cardiovascular disease.35 Research has shown that efforts to reduce the severity of periodontitis help lower systemic inflammation,36 which may reduce the risk of inflammation-linked cardiovascular events.37
A frontline defense against systemic inflammation is excellent oral health.
Blood Sugar Control
Diabetics who control their blood sugar have a lower risk of periodontal disease than those who do not.38
Periodontal disease can predispose individuals to diabetes or exacerbate existing diabetes.39 In patients with type II diabetes, severe periodontitis was strongly associated with an increased risk of poor blood-sugar control.40
One investigation revealed that hemoglobin A1C—a measure of long-term blood-sugar control—was higher in both people with type II diabetes and those with severe periodontal disease. This study showed that eliminating periodontal infection and reducing periodontal inflammation in diabetic patients produced significant improvements in their hemoglobin A1C levels. This suggests that optimizing dental health could help prevent the damaging consequences of diabetes.41
A common consequence of poor oral health in older adults is an elevated risk of a particular type of pneumonia. This form of pneumonia occurs when periodontal bacteria in the secretions of the mouth and pharynx are aspirated into the lungs.42,43
One study that followed the rate of respiratory illness among a group of older adults in Japan demonstrated the importance of thorough oral hygiene as the best prevention strategy. During six months, only one in 98 aging adults who had their oral health cared for by dental hygienists came down with a respiratory infection, compared to nine out of 92 people who did not get the same dental care.44
Scientists are investigating whether treating or preventing periodontal disease may promote bone density, and therefore may help inhibit osteoporosis.16 Research so far shows a link in the opposite direction, meaning that osteoporosis is a risk factor for periodontal disease.45
This suggests that strategies for reducing osteoporosis risk, such as optimizing calcium, vitamin K and vitamin D intake, may also retard alveolar bone loss around the jawbone sockets that hold teeth roots.45
While bisphosphonate drugs used to treat osteoporosis, such as Boniva® and Fosamax®, might offer benefits for periodontal tissues, they are associated with side effects that range from stomach pain to diarrhea.
A rare but extremely serious side effect is osteonecrosis (“bone death”) of the jaw bone, which can occur if any dental work is done while taking bisphosphonate drugs.46-48 Accordingly, safer strategies are needed that support both periodontal and body-wide bone health.
Low Birth-Weight Delivery
Observational studies provide compelling evidence that periodontal infections increase the risk for preterm delivery of low birth-weight babies.49 This link might result from cascading effects of inflammation in the mouth compromising the womb environment.49,50 Whatever the connection, controlling periodontal disease has become a potential strategy for reducing preterm labor.50
Topical Compounds That Deliver Optimal Oral Health
An optimal diet and supplement regimen may help promote general and oral health from the inside. Scientists have now identified a number of compounds that protect oral health when applied topically (inside the mouth). These substances can deliver complementary defenses when included as ingredients in toothpaste.
A 2016 study found that green tea extract protects against dental erosion, reducing wear and roughness.51
Other studies have demonstrated that green tea catechins exert direct antibacterial activity against Streptococcus mutans, one of the key microorganisms behind tooth decay. Green tea also inhibits a bacterial enzyme involved in the process that allows bacteria to stick to teeth. Further, it inhibits production of amylase, and since bacteria use this enzyme to break down starches into sugars, this action may help protect teeth.52,53
Evidence suggests that green tea reduces the invasiveness of oral cancer and decreases the production of a protein associated with oral cancer proliferation.54,55 Researchers also found that green tea arrests the growth of—and triggers apoptosis (self-destruction) of—oral carcinoma cells in the laboratory.56
Scientists then conducted a study to validate the usefulness of green tea in the improvement of periodontal disease. They applied green tea catechins to the mouths of patients with periodontal disease, once a week for 8 weeks, using special strips with a slow-release delivery system. It was shown that the green tea catechins killed a significant proportion of the bacteria causing periodontitis in these patients.57
Well known for its cardioprotective actions, CoQ10 has also been shown to improve symptoms of periodontitis when applied topically.8,58,59
Scientists conducted a placebo-controlled clinical trial in men with established periodontitis, and after six weeks of topical application of CoQ10, they found “significant improvements” in periodontal status, which were not seen in control subjects.8
Results from an early study on the effectiveness of CoQ10 against periodontitis were so impressive that the authors wrote, “Healing was so excellent 5-7 days post-biopsy that the biopsy sites were difficult to locate. The healing was viewed as extraordinarily effective.”60
Long used to promote wound healing and soothe burns, topically applied aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) has now been shown to promote wound healing and may provide soothing and healing properties to the gum tissues.9,61,62
Further, a 2015 study found that aloe vera inhibits tooth decay and periodontal pathogens.63
In a remarkable finding, a study published in the October 1, 2016, issue of the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Dentistry concluded that aloe vera “…can be used as an alternative product for curing and preventing gingivitis.”64
This natural sweetener inhibits oral bacteria when chewed in a gum or topically applied.
In a 2015 mouse study, a topical xylitol solution was found to exert “considerable anti-irritant and anti-inflammatory properties” against induced tissue irritation.65 A clinical study in the same year found that, in individuals with poor-to-moderate oral hygiene, xylitol-containing chewing gums more effectively reduced salivary levels of Streptococcus mutans—the bacteria responsible for most tooth decay—than conventional gums.66
Another clinical trial showed that, in contrast to sorbitol- and maltitol-containing chewing gums, only xylitol-sweetened gum eliminated saliva microbes, particularly those implicated in tooth decay.67 Xylitol could thus be an essential ingredient in a targeted strategy to avert dental disease.
More recently, scientists reviewed previous xylitol studies conducted on preteen children. They concluded, in the August 3, 2016, issue of the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, that “There is moderate quality evidence showing that the prophylactic administration of xylitol among healthy children…can reduce the occurrence of AOM (acute otitis media).” This is the most common bacterial infection among young American children.68
Lactoferrin—an immune-boosting protein involved in the body’s responses to infection and injury69—has been shown to halt growth of periodontitis-causing bacteria.12 In a 2015 study, researchers found that diabetic lactoferrin-deficient mice have a greater risk of developing periodontal infection.70
Lactoferrin appears to help fight infection and tissue damage associated with periodontal disease.
This well-known antiseptic can be used to fight plaque formation and to reduce gingivitis.13 Its bubbling action exposes oral bacteria that are difficult to reach with ordinary brushing and flossing—helping to lower bacteria levels and provide cleaner teeth and gums. When applied in diluted form by aerosol spray to the gums of patients with chronic periodontitis, hydrogen peroxide improved clinical periodontal status and plasma levels of inflammatory markers and “may be a promising method in periodontology.”71
Essential for the integrity of the gingival tissues, higher dietary intake of folic acid is associated with less gingival bleeding on probing.72 Similar results occurred when added to mouthwash. In patients with gum disease, folic acid-containing mouthwash significantly reduced gingival redness and gum bleeding.14
A frontline defense against systemic inflammation is excellent oral health.
Among the numerous diseases linked to poor oral health are type II diabetes, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, heart disease, and obesity.
Research indicates that adding specific ingredients to toothpaste powerfully supports dental health and safeguards against periodontal disease. The expected systemic benefit is reduced risks of lethal diseases that can originate in the mouth.
If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.
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- Michaud DS, Joshipura K, Giovannucci E, et al. A prospective study of periodontal disease and pancreatic cancer in US male health professionals. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2007;99(2):171-5.
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