There is scientific evidence connecting oral health to almost every other system in the body, including the immune system. Here, we look at the connection between oral health and the immune system and the importance of a rigorous dental hygiene regime.
What Is The Immune System?
Your immune system protects your body against pathogenic invaders that can make you sick, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and toxins. This system consists of organs, cells, and proteins throughout your body that work together to maintain your health. Oral mucosal cells in your mouth help create a physical barrier against pathogens while also producing antimicrobial proteins that trigger immune system reactions to fight invaders.
How Does The Oral Cavity Contribute To Health?
The first and most important link between your immune system and oral health begins in your oral cavity. Your mouth is inhabited by millions of microbial species that are part of your oral “microbiome”. This colony of bacteria varies throughout your oral cavity, from the surfaces of your teeth, to your tongue, to the inside of your cheeks, to your gums. In fact, there are eight different areas of your mouth that create a symbiotic ecosystem, each with its own microenvironments supporting its own bacterial flora.
Although there are healthy bacteria in your oral microbiome, there are also species that cause diseases. Luckily, your oral mucosa or saliva helps provide a rotation of the healthy microorganisms with cytokines and antimicrobial proteins. They trigger your immune system to defend against dangerous pathogenic flora that make you sick.
When the balance between good and bad flora is off, your tissue’s protective barriers are overtaken and can’t do their job. However, a balanced oral microbiome manages the many signals needed to regulate immunity in your mouth. It also creates a strong oral mucosa barrier that keeps your mouth and entire immune system healthy.
What Is The Connection Between Oral Health And The Immune System?
Gingivitis and periodontal disease are inflammatory diseases caused by too many unhealthy bacteria. Inflammation anywhere in your body is a common trigger for your immune system. As your body reacts to oral inflammatory bacteria, your immune system works overtime trying to kill the germs.
However, this reaction forces your immune system to focus on your mouth. As a result, it takes attention away from the rest of your body, leaving you vulnerable to other infections such as colds and flu. It also promotes further inflammation by disrupting your immune system, so it isn’t as effective at attacking invading bacteria throughout your body.
If you have underlying conditions, your body’s immune system is already working overtime. As a result, any additional “battles” your immune system is called upon to fight, further reduce your ability to keep diseases from invading your body, which in turn can allow these underlying conditions to worsen, creating a vicious cycle.
What Impacts Oral Microbiome Health?
The biofilms in your oral cavity are diverse, and as mentioned are related to eight areas of your mouth. For example, biofilms on teeth surfaces are more durable than those on the surfaces of your mucosa. This is because of the exfoliation process of your saliva which helps reduce microbial formations. However, as biofilm matures, the fluctuations in its chemicals are directly related to your diet and oral hygiene.
Other factors include changing oxygen conditions which can increase the thickness and density of microorganisms. When on the surfaces of the teeth and gums it can lead to the development of not only oral cavity diseases, but also systemic diseases caused by inflammation such as cardiovascular disease, bacterial pneumonia, and diabetes mellitus.
What Role Does Plaque Play In Your Immune System?
Dental plaque is a biofilm that can cause infections, including dental caries and gum disease. When plaque builds between your teeth and gums it is difficult to remove, leading to infections. Once infected, gingival crevice fluid provides proteins, nutrients, and glycoproteins that nurture these harmful germs, causing direct damage to soft and hard tissues. However, these bacteria can also interfere with your defense mechanisms, impacting your ability to fight disease and further infections.
There are three potentially serious effects of plaque on your health, including:
- Heart: Harmful bacteria can invade your bloodstream and develop plaque in blood vessels that can build up in your coronary arteries. This leads to heart issues, and if not addressed, can eventually cause a heart attack.
- Diabetes: The risk of diabetes can be accelerated if you are exposed to periodontal bacteria over time that develop glucose intolerance and insulin resistance.
- Respiratory Infections: Oral bacteria can also infect your respiratory system. If you breathe oral germs into your lungs, it leads to issues including COPD, pneumonia, respiratory infections, etc. In fact, the lungs themselves can also spread bacteria from your oral cavity into your bloodstream.
Does Oral Health Impact The Immune System In A Good Way?
Oral health does indeed impact the immune system, but it goes both ways: poor oral health will affect your immune system negatively, but excellent oral health will affect your immune system in a good way. Therefore, it is vitally important to take steps that optimize your dental health, such as the following:
Focus On Your Oral Hygiene
The simple rules of brushing twice a day and flossing regularly help maintain a healthy microbiome. Brush and floss too often and you can kill good bacteria. Don’t brush enough and you’ll help feed bad bacteria. It’s all about balance.
Choose The Right Oral Care Products
To help support healthy oral microbiome balance, avoid detergent-based toothpastes and mouthwashes containing alcohol.
Probiotics found in supplements and foods such as yogurt promote friendly bacteria that reduce gum inflammation, keep bad bacteria from penetrating your enamel, and help produce healthier saliva to promote enamel remineralization.
Eat A Healthy Diet
A nutrient-dense diet helps good bacteria thrive, including greens, fresh fruit and vegetables, organic eggs, meats and poultry, seeds and nuts, etc.
Avoid Unhealthy Snacks And Food
Once again, we can’t stress enough how important it is to avoid sugar, refined carbohydrates, and packaged or fast foods. These foods are the ideal diet to help bad bacteria thrive.
Without enough saliva production, it becomes more acidic, changing your healthy oral ecosystem. It helps to remain active and avoid stress in order to reduce inflammation, while also boosting circulation to detoxify your lymphatic system. If you have a dry mouth, we can recommend ways to improve saliva production.
Regular Dental Checkups
Dental checkups will reveal signs of an unhealthy microbiome such as increased plaque, gum inflammation, and lack of saliva. Your dentist will help you improve your oral health regime and saliva production, while removing plaque that contributes to an unhealthy immune system.
Knowing your oral health impacts your immune system and its ability to fight disease and viruses is a great motivator to improve your oral health regime.