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How Gum Health Is Connected to Your Immune System

Our immune system is the body’s defence against harmful micro-organisms, substances, and abnormal cell changes in the body. You do not notice it working behind the scenes to keep you functioning properly but when the immune system is compromised you may fall ill.

How does the immune system work?
The immune system can be triggered via receptors that come into contact with antigens, which are foreign objects that the body does not safely recognise as its own. These antigens can be pathogens (like bacteria, viruses and fungi), environmental substances, or cancerous cells. If encountering antigens for the first time, the body will store information about them so that any further contact can be recognised and handled efficiently.

The mouth is the gateway to the body and has an important job protecting against invasion of bacteria and other harmful agents.

How does the mouth protect the body?
Saliva contains antibodies called Immunoglobulin A (IgA), a protein that kills harmful organisms and prevents ingestion. Lactoferrin is another protein found in saliva that inhibits bacterial growth.

Gingivitis, bacterial inflammation of the gums, can lead to periodontitis, a more severe inflammatory disease of the oral tissues leading to pain, infection, mobility, and loss of teeth. Inflammation can occur in the mouth as a result of an invasion of harmful bacteria. These bacteria can proliferate at a faster rate if the immune system is compromised.

Bacteria in the mouth can enter the bloodstream via the inflamed tissues and travel to other parts of the body to cause inflammation elsewhere. Studies have shown links with gum disease and heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and more.

What can weaken the immune system?
There are many factors that can affect efficiency of the immune system. These include: poor nutrition, lack of fruit and veg and a diet high in saturated fats; lack of sleep and exercise; anxiety and grief; smoking and alcohol also have detrimental effects. Some medications used to treat illnesses like cancer, arthritis, allergies, conditions like lupus, as well as medications used during transplant surgery, can suppress the immune system. If there are other underlying health conditions (such as diabetes or heart disease) the immune system will be under further strain.

Studies have also shown links between gum disease and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. An autoimmune disease is caused when the body starts to attack its own cells. There are some common ones that affect the oral cavity.

Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease causes inflammation of the digestive system and is a lifelong condition. It can cause swelling in the mouth, particularly the gums, and can also cause painful mouth ulcers.

Sjogren’s Syndrome
Sjogren’s syndrome is a condition affecting the cells that produce lubrication such as tears and saliva and can cause dryness of the eyes, mouth, skin as well as other areas of the body. Dry mouth can affect speech, eating, and swallowing, as well as increase susceptibility to tooth decay and periodontal disease.

Lupus is a long-term autoimmune disease where the body attacks other systems in the body such as the liver, kidneys, lungs, heart, and more. Ulcers can develop in the mouth making eating painful. This in itself can further affect the immune system through lack of vital nutrients.

As explored above, problems with the immune system can have detrimental effects on gum health. It is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle to improve overall health and to maintain good oral health to help prevent complications. Regular check-ups with your GP and dentist can help to maintain optimal health and spot early signs of complications.

If you’re concerned about gum disease or would like more information, please call us on 020 3411 7735 to speak with our friendly team or fill out our contact form.