James Island resident Tanner Knox knows all too well the impact of dental health on the entire body. In 2010 his father, Roy, had to get intensive surgery on a heart valve following an oral infection from braces.
“It’s something that I definitely keep in mind,” the 28-year-old Knox said. “I’m pretty strict on my oral health regimen for sure.”
Though what happened to Knox’s father would be considered rare and not a case of neglect, dental experts stress that patients need to be aware of the risks that come with not considering their dental health since it can directly impact their physical well-being.
Recently, a 2019 study found that a common oral bacteria was directly linked to colorectal cancer. In simple terms, the studies found the bacteria present in cancer cells as a sort of a cancer facilitator. The same bacteria that is in gum disease can be helping cancer grow in the colon.
Dr. Frank Adams, who is Tanner Knox’s dentist and owner of Bridge Dental in Charleston, said information like that doesn’t surprise him.
“There’s an old saying in dental school, ‘all health begins with oral health,’” he said.
In the United states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly 50 percent of people between the ages of 30 and older have some form of periodontal disease, which is an infection in the area around the teeth. The disease, generally referred to as gum disease, usually comes from a buildup of the bacteria-filled, sticky film called plaque.
One of the most common and mildest forms of the disease is gingivitis and a key symptom is the bleeding of gums.
With the relationship with colorectal cancer, the link between oral health and the cancer involves a bacteria that is often present in periodontal disease. Fusobacterium nucleatum, also known as F. nucleatum, appears in both healthy and unhealthy individuals.
Studies have shown it to be one of the most common bacteria in the oral cavity. When it comes to colorectal cancer, the bacteria stimulates key colorectal cancer cells and as a result increases the growth of the cancer.
“The mouth, when it is infected, will infect the entire body,” Dr. John Comisi a professor of dental medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina.
But the impact of oral health doesn’t end there. Studies have also linked F. nucleatum to other conditions like arthritis, Alzheimer’s, respiratory tract infections and cardiovascular disease.
For a lot health conditions, poor oral health can feed symptoms of other conditions. One of the key reasons is the infection component, Dr. Comisi said.
“We’re really not thinking about dental disease as an infection.” Comisi said.
Adams said, “gum disease is a bacterial infection.”
Both Adams and Comisi explained that inflammation and an infection in the mouth can seep into the bloodstream and cause a whole host of additional problems. Poor oral hygiene and smoking allow for bacteria in the mouth to flourish.
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