Gum Disease and The Bugs That Cause It
Gum disease is far more common than many realise - affecting 50% of the adult population. As the term suggests, gum disease is an infection of the gums. Contrary to popular belief, however, gum disease is not necessarily a sign of poor dental hygiene but rather is indicative of bacterial and parasitic infection.
The Signs of Gum Disease
Visible signs of gum disease include bleeding gums, receding gums, loose teeth, tooth loss and bad breath. While these symptoms are certainly severe and are worth correcting, the most sinister of symptoms associated with gum disease aren't those that are visible in the mouth, but those that occur elsewhere in the body. This results from the oral systemic connection - the link between oral health and total body health. A 2013 study looking at patients who suffered from stroke and heart attack highlights this oral systemic link particularly well. After conducting PCR DNA testing on the bacteria that caused the clots resulting in stroke and heart attack, it was determined that the clot causing bacteria was derived from oral sources in every case. Herein lies the danger of gum disease.
The Bugs That Cause Gum Disease
So, what are these bugs, bacteria and parasites that infect the gums, how do they get there, and what harm do they cause?
Candida albicans is a part of the normal oral flora - meaning it lives in the mouth naturally. It is, however, an opportunistic pathogen, which means - if presented with the right conditions - it can multiply to the point where it causes harm to the oral environment and gums. Candida albicans is often visible in the mouth as oral thrush and is also associated with pneumonia, Chron's disease and poor gut health. Because of this, it is particularly common for those with weak immune systems to have difficulty controlling candida.
Porphyromonas gingivalis is one of the leading causes of gum disease and periodontitis - being associated with almost all instances of gum disease. While it is mostly contained within the mouth, its effects are associated with many systemic diseases and conditions such as diabetes, heart attack, oral cancers, Alzheimer's, rheumatoid arthritis and pre-term birth.
There are approximately 60 strains of spirochetes that have been detected in the mouth. A highly aggressive bacteria, their spiral shape allows them to penetrate tissues and cells - essentially like a corkscrew. By penetrating cells, they can travel throughout the body and are also able to evade detection by hiding in skin cells. They are also known for rolling up on themselves, which prevents them from being escorted by white blood cells. Oral spirochetes have been linked with causal factors in Alzheimer's, heart disease and stroke.
Vibrios and Motile Rods
These are not a species of bacteria per se, but are a group of bacteria known collectively for their shape. They are typically aggressive and can even kill other bacteria. Two particular species associated with gum disease are campylobacter rectus - which also has a relationship with premature birth and low birth weights - and selenomonas noxia (associated with obesity).
Helicobacter Pylori is commonly associated with stomach ulcers and gastric disease, but can live in the mouth (in plaque formations) and is a contributing factor to gum disease. Not only does Helicobacter Pylori lead to gum disease, but it is also the cause of chronic gastritis.
Unlike Porphyromonas Gingivalis (with is a bacteria), Entamoeba Gingivalis is a parasite. There are three distinct stages in the lifecycle of Entamoeba Gingivalis. The baby stage, where they feed on sugars. The adolescent stage, where they latch onto white and red blood cells and drain the cell of its nutrients. And a mature stage where they are capable of laying dormant and preserving themselves. Not only does Entamoeba Gingivalis cause gum disease, but it is also linked with chronic autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and various types of cancer (oral, gastrointestinal, lung, pancreatic, blood and prostate cancer). Entamoeba Gingivalis has also been linked to endometriosis.
Trichomonas tenax belongs to the Trichomonas family and is a parasite commonly found in the oral cavity. They feed off the purulent and necrotic tissue in the gums' affected areas - proliferating as gum disease worsens. They are also known to metabolise white blood cells and affect the lungs - being associated with issues like lung cancer, pneumonia and pleural empyema (pooling of pus and fluid surrounding the lungs).
Why Do These Bacterias and Parasites Proliferate?
It is important to note that these bacterias and parasites can only thrive and survive in the right conditions. So long as the oral environment is healthy and stable, gum disease can be avoided as oral conditions will prevent bacteria and parasites from taking hold. Even if these pathogens are introduced to the oral environment, they will struggle to take hold in a healthy, balanced environment. Our video below explains our approach to maintaining a healthy oral environment.
Our Approach to Treating Gum Disease
It is important to adopt this first principles thinking when dealing with gum disease. Most dentists' approach is to simply scale the teeth (removing plaque) in the hope that gum disease will subside as a result. This approach, however, fails to acknowledge what drove the proliferation of these bacteria and parasites in the first place. At Eric Davis Dental, our approach is to identify and eliminate the cause of infection and restore balance to the oral environment so that gum disease is alleviated and prevented on a sustainable, long term basis.