Bugs “Spirochetes” in your mouth may be making you sick!
The Little Known Bacteria in Your Mouth That May Be Undermining Your Immune System
Stress Is A Major Contributing Factor In Oral Health Issues
By Dr. Carey O’Rielly
The role of inflammation, food sensitivities and stress in oral health are issues that are not often part of the dental wellness conversation. Yet they can have a significant impact. As an example, stress can bring about an acidic condition in the mouth and interfere with the buffering action of saliva. Stress may keep people from routine care such as dental exams and checkups, which can lead to further dental complications.
Stress will also impact our intestinal tract, being a key factor in causing intestinal permeability or “leaky gut.” An inflammatory cascade may then result due, to a large extent, from the connections that exist between our gums, our intestines and our brains. We call this the gum/gut/brain axis. At some point the leaky gut condition will also impact the brain through inflammation, which will in turn further affect our digestion through the vagus nerve network.
It is interesting to note that these three organ complexes have a barrier system meant to protect us from the damage done by inflammation, toxicity and microbial attack. When such an attack results in cell death, a chronic inflammatory condition is created that won’t resolve until the underlying causes are addressed. Food sensitivities often play a prominent role in this cycle.
Another Major Condition Is Infection
The other major condition impacting the gums, gut and brain is infection, which also causes inflammation. Most people are aware of the link between gum disease and systemic health. A few years ago Whoopi Goldberg made her periodontal condition public on the TV show The View, pleading with the audience to pay attention or else “…it will kill you.” Numerous research papers have linked gum disease to serious systemic diseases such as heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, strokes and diabetes. Recently gum disease has also been linked to Alzheimer’s and other neurological conditions.
The Problem May Be Worse Due To Spirochetes
We are beginning to realize that the problem may be worse and more far-reaching than this. Certain types of bacteria, called spirochetes, are common in most peoples’ mouths, living in the pockets (crevices) between our gums and teeth. As long as it is unaddressed in the mouth, this type of infection can continue to grow unchecked and leak into our bodies. When viewed under a microscope, these particular bacteria can be seen to aggressively attack both red and white blood cells, often entering into or otherwise destroying them.
Another difficulty with this type of bacteria is that it has the capability to morph into different forms at various times. This will depend on its environment or whether it is under attack by either antibiotics or immune cells. The adaptive capacities of this microbe make it harder to eradicate entirely from either the mouth or the body. The process by which spirochetes will leak into the body from the mouth is called ‘bacteremia’. If bacteria are present in the mouth, then even simple actions like tooth brushing and dental procedures like cleanings can cause bacteria to enter the blood stream.
While the gum/heart interplay has gained increasing public awareness in the last decade, the role of spirochetes has less research and consequently less media exposure. However, this may be one of the missing links in our quest to regain the health and vitality that many seem to have lost over time. There is also an interesting correlation between gum disease and the levels of these microbes present. In our practice we have seen that as gum disease progresses, the amounts of bacteria increase substantially.
The Mouth Is A Breeding Ground For Every Type Of Microorganisms
Since the mouth is a breeding ground for every type of microorganism, our immune systems are on the alert 24/7 to maintain balance and a state of health. It stands to reason that patients with gum problems, especially those with longstanding conditions, receive a boost to their energy once some of the immune burden is lifted by tackling and eventually reversing this condition.
We have begun extensive microscope evaluation in our practice to demonstrate the amount and types of bacteria present in the mouth. Due to technological advances in video microscopy, patients can now see live examples of the pathogens that may be present. If ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ then how much more powerful is a real time video presentation! The patient instantly comprehends the importance of monitoring and successfully treating their bacteria, and the invariable question is “OK, Doc, I understand. How do I get rid of it?”
Fortunately this condition can be addressed with a persistent focus once the actual condition is revealed. While spirochetes do respond to antibiotics, they also have defensive strategies that allow a certain amount of these bacteria to survive. This is clearly not a desirable long term treatment option. There are also indications that spirochetes may not be responsive to antibiotics over time. In addition there are co-infection factors that must be monitored and treated simultaneously in order to fully reverse the condition. What facilitates this is using certain salt and oxygenating rinses as well as other simple procedures done faithfully at home, along with a consistent program of in-office treatments. Solutions to these problems need not be complicated; they just have to be applied.
Bleeding Gums Is A Sign Of A Serious Underlying Health Issue
Thanks to advances in video capability we can also bring the patient into the conversation in a new way, by showing the response to treatment over time. This is crucial, since it is impossible to bring about change in this condition without the patient’s ongoing participation. This may include addressing some of the other issues indicated above, including- but not limited to- the possibility of a restricted diet. While some may find this difficult, others may find it is a small price to pay for renewed health and vitality, beginning with oral health.