When we think about the health of our gut, we don’t often
consider what is going on in the mouth. Yet, there is a condition that affects
75% of us, which starts in the mouth and ends in the gut. I am talking about
periodontal (gum) disease and the bacteria with which it is associated.
Under healthy circumstances, the makeup of the microbial
ecosystem of the mouth consists mainly of “friendly” bacteria that contribute
to proper immune function, assist in digestion, and prevent the overgrowth of
pathogenic harmful organisms. Similar to the terrain in the gut, conditions can
quickly worsen depending on a person’s habits. Things like a diet high in
refined sugars, excessive alcohol consumption, and smoking create an
environment that allows pathogenic organisms to flourish.
This results not only in an increase in the rate of decay,
but also the formation of gum disease. One of the main culprits involved in gum
disease is an organism called Porphyromonas
gingivalis (P. gingivalis).
What is interesting about this particular bacteria is its
ability to survive the effects of stomach acid. When you swallow (about 1 ½ quarts
of saliva a day), lots of bacteria go along for the ride. Stomach acid, which is not only critical in
digestion (with a pH of 1 to 2 needed to properly digest protein), also acts as
a sort of barrier between the ecosystems of the oral cavity and the gut.
Contrary to what the TV commercials promoting antacid medications say, most
people are actually low in stomach
acid. As we age, our stomachs produce progressively less hydrochloric acid. That means we have a harder time digesting
protein, which leads to bloating and reflux. Modern medicine’s answer? A little
purple pill to further reduce stomach
acid—the exact opposite of what should be done.
The resulting lower levels of acid in the stomach now allow
not just P. gingivalis, but a host of other strains of bacteria from the
oral cavity to travel through the stomach and colonize the gut.
What does that mean for your health?
Well, the presence of these foreign bacteria in the gut
triggers an immune reaction that leads to an inflammatory response and
dysbiosis (imbalance in the microflora). This imbalance has been shown to lead
to an increase in the permeability of the lining of the colon (known as leaky
gut) and to be a contributing factor in a number of illnesses. Conditions such
as Type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, some cancers, and
even Alzheimer’s disease are now being linked to gut dysbiosis.
Another major condition in the mouth, not related to gum
disease, is mercury released from dental “silver” fillings. In many ways, the
effects of this heavy metal mimic what happens when pathogenic bacteria travel
to the gut:
production of inflammatory compounds
depletion of essential antioxidants
damage to the gut lining
dysbiosis leading to candida
Fortunately, making an assessment for the presence of gum
disease and mercury-containing fillings is very easy and should already be a
part of any periodic examination done at your normal dental checkup. If you
want to find out right now if you have gum disease, the presence of either bad
breath or areas of bleeding when you floss are good indications. Wondering
about amalgam fillings? Just look in the mirror and open wide—mercury-containing
fillings are easily spotted because of their dark color.
If you think you have either of these conditions present in
your mouth, your journey to optimal health should start with a qualified
Dr. Ingo Mahn is a 1985 graduate of
Marquette University School of Dentistry. He is an accredited member of the
IAOMT (International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology) and earned a
doctorate in Integrative Medicine from Capital University, in Georgetown, in
2004. He is the founder of Natural Dental Partners, a high-tech,
health-centered practice in North Phoenix. To get a free copy of his book, Your Mouth, the Missing Link to
Optimal Health, call 602-775-5120 or visit MyNaturalDentist.com to