Watch Your Mouth

By Robert Goldman, M.D., Ph.D.
and Ronald Klatz, M.D., D.O.

Infectious diseases are the third leading cause of death in the US after heart disease and cancer, claiming more than 100,000 American lives annually and costing more than US$30 billion in direct treatment expense alone.

Infectious diseases are responsible for a quarter to a third of the 54 million deaths globally each year and are the world’s leading cause of death among children and young adults. Germs – in the form of viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites – lurk everywhere and are the culprits in infectious disease.

In this article, we review some eye-opening details on oral health as a source of infectious disease. Often overlooked as a contributing factor, it’s important to note that an estimated 500 species of microorganisms live in the mouth. Each of these individual organisms readily and rapidly reproduces in that warm, dark, moist environment and has direct access to your body through the mouth’s highly absorbent tissues and the body’s airways and digestive pathways. It’s becoming patently clear that the state of oral health may be a major single predictor of general health.

Because the gums and oral cavity are a major passageway through which bacteria can invade the body, dental infections have now been identified as causes of:

• Heart Disease: Bacteria in the mouth can enter the bloodstream and may deposit into the vessels that supply the heart. A University of North Carolina study found that 85 percent of heart attack victims had severe gum disease.

• Stroke: Studies have found that people with severe gum disease have twice the risk of stroke (as compared to people with good oral health). The US National Institute of Dental Research reports that 70 percent of the fatty deposits clogging the carotid arteries in stroke contain bacteria, with 40 percent of that bacteria originating from the mouth. Previous research shows that people with severe gum disease have twice the risk of stroke compared to people with good oral health.

• Lung diseases from pneumonia to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: Extensive tartar buildup and plaque correlate to risk for chronic lung disease. Studies demonstrate an increased risk of lung infections, abscesses and upper respiratory infections in patients with gum disease.

• Diabetes: Diabetics with gum disease are three times more likely to have heart attacks than those without.

• Spontaneous pre-term births: The National Institute of Dental Research reports that women with gum disease are 7 to 8 times more likely to give birth to premature low-weight infants.

• Pneumonia: A University of Buffalo research study found that germs found in dental plaque can cause pneumonia, as respiratory pathogens in the plaque can readily be inhaled into the lungs.

• Tuberculosis: Oral TB infects 2 billion people worldwide, accounting for 3 million deaths each year. Painful oral ulcerations are a hallmark symptom.

Stop deadly germs from multiplying and spreading from your mouth:

• Eat a balanced and nutritional diet; limit sugar consumption

• Brush and floss twice a day

• Visit the dentist regularly for preventive checkups and cleanings

• Enjoy these foods and beverages that have been shown to promote good oral health:

• Green tea: University of Illinois-Chicago researchers

• found that drinking green tea reduced the number of bacteria in the mouth that cause bad breath. In a separate study, Pace University scientists found that flavorids, a compound in green tea, work with the germ killers in toothpaste and mouthwash, boosting their effectiveness at warding off viruses and preventing cavities.

• Black tea: A study by the Vivekananda Institute in India reported in 2005 that people who drank black tea for one year had a reduced risk of developing oral cancer.

• Cranberry juice: Researchers at the University of Rochester have shown that cranberry juice helps to stop bacteria from sticking to teeth, thereby preventing the formation of plaque – the cause of tooth decay and gum disease. Separate research by a team at the University of Illinois-Chicago found that cranberry juice interfered with the viability and growth of oral pathogens.

• Raisins: In 2005, University of Illinois-Chicago researchers found that two compounds in raisins were successful in fighting bacteria in the mouth that cause cavities and gum disease.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that most adults show signs of gum disease, with severe gum disease affecting about 14 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 years. Because the oral cavity can be the gateway for germs to enter the body and cause disease, it’s vitally important to your health to keep it in top condition.

Drs. Goldman and Klatz are the co-founders of the anti-aging medical movement and serve, respectively, as chairman and president of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of technology to detect, prevent and treat aging-related disease and to promote research into methods to retard and optimize the human aging process.

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