The Relationship Between Gum Health & Systemic Health
Posted on Monday, November 2nd, 2009
By Gary M. Verigin, DDS, CTN
A research team at a prestigious university hospital was conducting an experiment: how does a bullfrog react to a handclap? They set the frog on a table and clapped their hands. The frog jumped. Then they severed the frog’s right front leg. Again, the handclap; again, the frog jumped. They cut off the left front leg. Again, the handclap; again, the frog jumped. They cut off the back left leg. Again, the handclap; again – though weakly – the frog jumped. Finally, they cut off the back right leg. When they clapped their hands, the frog didn’t move. The research team thus concluded that if you cut off all the legs from a frog, it will go deaf.
This joke reminds me of how each conventional medical specialty – dentistry included – views health and disease states in isolation, each according to its own biases and premises. Each treats the symptoms of toxicity in its own narrow area of expertise. They’re like the 12 blind men who touch 12 different parts of an elephant and each identify a completely different animal. For instance, conventional Western medicine has different specialists diagnosing eczema, psoriasis, arthritis, teething, muscle trigger points, tooth decay, gum disease, inflammatory bowel disease, migraine headaches, asthma, angina, coronary vessel spasm and chronic fatigue. Yet every one of these states reflects a single condition: uncontrolled inflammation.
Oral health and systemic health are intimately linked – a fact that continues to be confirmed by research published in a wide variety of scientific journals, including the prestigious Nature. For instance, recent autopsy studies revealed a specific strain of bacteria in bodies diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This bacteria was found only in the depths of the periodontal pockets around the teeth.
Such findings remind us that dentists are truly “Oral Medicine Care Providers,” and that there is much more at stake than just teeth, bone and gums.
The oral cavity is home to hundreds of microorganisms. In fact, several hundred bacterial, fungal and viral forms live there. Some are helpful, while others are harmful. The main bacteria that cause decay or caries (cavities) are of the Streptococcus family, the genes of which let them cling to teeth, fillings and crowns – especially when the biofilm (plaque) hasn’t been thoroughly and often disturbed. Because they don’t need oxygen to survive, they live very easily below the gum line. If these colonies of anaerobic bacteria aren’t broken up by flossing, brushing, irrigation and the like, they multiply. And when they do, they produce metabolic waste materials. These toxins and enzymes destroy the oral tissues, causing inflammation and breakdown of the tissue lining. This is why such gums bleed when slightly scraped with a cleaning device. When there is chronic inflammation around the teeth, the inflammation can penetrate the underlying bone and enter the bloodstream.
The ability to resist this process depends on one’s biochemical and bioelectrical status, immune system condition and constitutional weakness.
Most of the microorganisms that live in the oral cavity are not pathogenic (harmful). Yet those that are can affect the tongue, oral mucous membranes, salivary glands and tonsils. Not only do such infections have disruptive effects on the oral tissues, they can have a profound impact on overall health and seed infections throughout the body.
Periodontal tissues begin with the alveolar bone. This is what houses your teeth. Thousands of tiny ligaments – called the periodontal ligament or membrane – connect your teeth to this bone. The gingival tissues – your gums – are attached to both the bone and your teeth. They are united in what’s called the epithelial attachment. When we chart periodontal conditions, we slip a probe between each tooth and the gum, into the sulcus and measure this attachment. Healthy tissues measure from one to three millimeters. Larger measurements denote pockets, which mark the onset of periodontal disease.
Two conditions are of special concern: gingivitis and periodontitis. Both are infectious, inflammatory processes. Both are generally chronic. But gingivitis is limited to the gums. Periodontitis results in the destruction of the periodontal ligament, alveolar bone and gingival tissues. Early on, it seldom causes much pain or discomfort. In fact, at this point, the changes aren’t even observable in x-rays.
These disease states result from exposure to more than 400 bacterial species. When pathogenic, subgingival microbes release their various toxic products, the bacteria colonize in the pockets. Left undisturbed for just one or two days – untouched by cleaning tools – the toxins begin to destroy the periodontal tissues. Even after cleaning, as sure as death and taxes, the microbes that make up the biofilm start another cycle of colonization.
After a few days of undisturbed colonization, ulcers grow in the gums. This allows intact microbial cells and their byproducts – including lipopolysaccharides, peptidoglycan fragments and hydrolytic enzymes – into systemic circulation. One’s immune system and host response to these infections result in the local production of cytokines and biological mediators such as serum antibodies, prostaglandins and interleukins.
In light of the many kinds of microbial biofilms and plaques associated with periodontal infections, and in light of the chronic nature of these diseases and local and systemic response to the microbial assault, it’s reasonable to hypothesize that these infections may influence overall health and the course of quite a few systemic diseases.
So why don’t all those with marginal or poor cleaning practices have outright periodontal disease?
Nutrigenomics points to one answer. This field considers the effect of diet – and bioactive molecules in the diet – on specific genes. It looks at how diet may alter the risk of common chronic diseases. It tells us that we are not hotwired to get any particular disease. Rather, we participate in its development.
Disease risks are related to lifestyle. This includes everything affecting your body, mind and spirit. Every cell in your body is connected to the others. It’s as if every cell has the address, phone, fax number and e-mail address of every other cell in your body. Or think about the last time you were barefoot and stubbed your toe on the edge of a piece of furniture. Though only your toe was injured, you felt the impact from head to toe. For this, you can thank the chemical and energetic connections among your cells.
It is clear that a number of systemic disease and conditions are risk factors for periodontal disease. These include diabetes mellitus, neutrophil disorders, osteopenia, osteoporosis, stress, bacteremia, infective endocarditis, cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis, prosthetic device infection, respiratory disease, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, adverse pregnancy outcomes, behavioral and psychological status, and some brain abscesses. The Research, Science and Therapy Committee of the American Academy of Periodontology included extensive references on these disease relationships in their 1998 “Position Paper on Periodontal Disease.”
Premised on the notion that the influence of diet on health is related to one’s genetic makeup, Nutrigenomics opens up the best route for treating periodontal and other systemic diseases. Simply, your diet uniquely influences how you function because of how the “information” in your food affects genetic expression. Yes, food is more than just calories and simple nutrients. It provides a dietary signature that presents molecules as information, influencing gene expression and various metabolic functions. As noted biochemist Jeffrey Bland has remarked, “The paradigm shift is to the concept of ‘food is information,’ whether it is protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins, minerals, accessory nutrients or the health-promoting phytonutrients found in plant foods.” (Emphasis added)
The RNA and DNA of a cell, as well as the cell’s overall genetic makeup, are protected by the biological terrain, or milieu. In other words, you are only as healthy as your terrain. The healthier your basic regulative system, the more you control your homeostasis – that is, your body’s effort to maintain biophysical and bioenergetic balance. For instance, if some kind of stress or toxin caused you to become bed-ridden rather than inducing vomiting, diarrhea or sweating, we would identify a malfunctioning homeostatic mechanism. Why? Because your body’s response would be out of proportion to the exposure to the stress or toxin.
In Is It in Your Genes?, Dr. Phillip Reilly writes that “most people think genetic disease are rare conditions caused by mutations in a single gene that generally afflict children. This impression is 20 years out of date. It’s simply no longer accurate. Extraordinary advances in our understanding of human genetics are changing how physicians think about the cause of disease. Today, we know that virtually all the diseases and disorders that afflict humans are influenced by the genes with which they are born.” He concludes, “Nutritional genetics will be a central feature of wellness programs. Motivated individuals will adhere to diets and consume particular nutraceuticals based on compatibility with their genetic profile. The rapidly growing nutrition business will be based on far more credible scientific evidence than it is today. Nutritional counseling will be replete with genetic analysis.”
The concept of Nutrigenomics is shaping a new form of biological dental medicine in our office, altering the way we see various therapeutic options. Most notably, we are now guided by Biological Terrain Analysis (BTA), a form of evaluation that was originally developed in the early 1950s by the French hydrologist Louis-Claude Vincent. Back then, obtaining pH values for water was already routine. What Vincent did was to supplement the standard chemical analysis and pH value with electrical potential (rH2) and the specific resistance (r). He then demonstrated that the physical or bioelectric parameters pH-rH2-r are also sufficient for use in human diagnostics. These parameters, as they emerge in each case, permitted detection of a healthy or diseased terrain.
In the mid-1990s, Dr. Bob Greenberg, an Arizona chiropractor, developed the first dependable BTA testing units in the US. The hardware and software were FDA-approved in 2004.
The test is run after the client has fasted for 12 hours. Even water is avoided. Urine and saliva samples are then taken and run through a series of electrodes and other hardware. After the data is analyzed, we get a detailed report on the current condition of the person’s terrain. We see the nature of the imbalances and receive nutritional recommendations for correcting them. The report designates the ideal food signature: vitamins, minerals, accessory nutrients, phytonutrients, homeopathics and isopathics.
Those of us who practice integrated, biological dentistry use the mouth as a barometer of the immune system. We also consider the condition of the biological terrain to help our clients develop greater awareness and thus a higher preferred state of health. Like all disease states, periodontal disease is thus best approached by improving the terrain through better, more informed lifestyle choices.
For as Dr. Steven Green, author of Eclectic Dentistry: Demystifying Medicine, writes, “Other than defined mutation or unknown toxicity, disease is due to harmful addictive behavior arising from diminished self esteem or a perverted reward system. We can broaden dentistry’s range of services into the primary-care arena abandoned by the orthodoxy of the medical profession. Nutritional pharmacology could be a uniquely dental approach, especially in treating that transitional area between vibrant health and disease diagnosis codes. The technology of the emerging age is coming full circle, rediscovering old truths and thus giving doctors the power to become healers again.”
Originally published in Biosis 3/4/5, March/May/July 2005
If you enjoyed this article, sign up for your free subscription to Biosis, Dr. Verigin’s quarterly newsletter. Our next issue will be published on November 17.