It Starts With the Mouth

So much of our health seems to come back to strong teeth and gums. To some people, this could sound disingenuous. What could be a connection between what happens in your mouth and the rest of your body?

Consider this scenario: A chronic infection settles into your gums. Since your gums are living tissue nourished with blood, a steady stream of bacteria are released from your mouth into the bloodstream. These invaders are attacked by the immune system, causing immune cells to circulate throughout the body. The resulting conflict between the bacteria and the immune system causes collateral damage by destroying tissue; this can be anywhere in your anatomy.

This does make sense, and over the past several decades, there have been literally hundreds of studies investigating how serious oral disease can cause or worsen other ailments.  “There’s increasing evidence that periodontitis (gum disease) exacerbates other inflammatory diseases,” says Thomas Van Dyke, vice president of clinical and translational research at the Massachusetts-based Forsyth Institute and professor at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. The list is surprisingly diverse: heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and even rheumatoid arthritis.

Yes, even arthritis. When the immune system attacks the harmful bacteria, joints can get caught in the crossfire. According to Camille Brewer, a Stanford University graduate student and lead author on a recent study that provides insights into how oral disease and arthritis may be connected, “We discovered that the immune response to oral bacteria in the blood was associated with joint flare-ups.” Through regularly scheduled blood tests, her team discovered the first real-time correlation between oral pathogen levels in the blood and joint pain.

Of course, more study is needed to understand exactly how oral health and joint health are connected. But the payoff could be new and improved arthritis treatments. As someone who has arthritis, I wish them well.

Taken from “Can Gum Infections Trigger Arthritis Symptoms? There’s Growing Evidence of a Link” by Sharon Guynup (

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