Many of us have experienced a dental infection before. Who can forget the pain, pressure and swelling around an abscessed tooth or cavity?
We all know our teeth are important for eating. What you may not realize is they also play a major role in your overall health. But don’t count on tooth pain to clue you in to a problem.
Just because your mouth doesn’t hurt isn’t a guarantee there aren’t hidden issues. For example, you could have gum disease and not even know it. In fact, you probably do. According to the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, an estimated 75% of Americans have some form of periodontal disease – many with no tooth pain.
Besides risking the loss of your teeth, the bacteria behind periodontal disease can travel. They can migrate to your heart, eyes, lungs, kidneys, and other organs and tissues throughout your body. This spreading infection can lead to serious health problems – or even death.
The International Center for Nutrition Research suggests chronic dental infections cause rheumatic joint pain, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), skin rashes, chronic sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, low-grade fever and may even be related to failure in resolving cancer.
Your untreated dental infections can wreak havoc with your heart, especially. A number of researchers have connected higher rates of dental infections in patients with chronic heart disease and with higher rates of myocardial infarction, or heart attack.
Your kidneys can also be affected as severe periodontal disease increases the risk of developing diabetes, and can make it more difficult to manage blood sugar levels. The good news lies with other studies which have found diabetes patients who receive treatment for periodontal disease may be able to control the condition with less insulin.
The Root of the Problem
Where do these infections come from? Increasingly, many dentists are finding root canals can be a significant factor in these “quiet” dental infections.
The problem, they argue, are roots that are not fully sterilized or filled, which allows harmful bacteria to become trapped, away from the blood flow. And the kicker… virtually any material used as filler in a root canal will shrink at least a tiny bit. That tiny gap left behind, no matter how small, provides an excellent breeding ground for microscopic bacteria. Since there is little to no blood flow to this area, your body cannot send an adequate amount of white blood cells to fight off infections there.
Some observant healthcare practitioners now suggest one of the critical steps to healing degenerative disease is the removal of all root canals. Other hotspots where dental infections frequently sprout up include gum infections, infected tonsils or tonsil tags, and tooth pocket infections resulting from extractions.
Signs and Signals
Good dental hygiene and regular semi-annual visits to a dentist, preferably a holistic one, are a given since early periodontal disease can be very difficult to detect on your own. But there are warning signs besides tooth pain that could indicate a problem.
Common signs of low-level chronic dental infections include headaches, numbness, ringing in the ear, chronic sinus infections, facial pain, heart irregularities, panic and anxiety, depression, joint pain and chronic fatigue.
If these symptoms are all familiar, you may want to schedule your next dental appointment with a holistic dentist, or one who views your oral health in conjunction with your overall health and well-being.
Prevention and Treatment
As always, an ounce of prevention continues to be worth a pound of cure. The standard dental advice still applies: avoid sugary drinks and foods, brush and floss regularly, and visit your dentist for cleanings twice a year.
According to the Weston A. Price Foundation which was established to disseminate and continue the research of noted dentist Dr. Weston A. Price, there are several more natural ways to improve your dental health and lower your risk of gum and tooth infections:
- Eat nutrient-dense whole foods, properly grown and prepared.
- Avoid root canals. If you have root canals and suspect that they are
causing trouble, have them removed by a knowledgeable dentist.
- Avoid mercury (amalgam) fillings. If you have amalgam fillings, have them
removed by a holistic dentist who specializes in mercury filling replacement.
- Orthodontics should include measures to widen the palate.
- When it is necessary to extract teeth, do so in such a way as to avoid
leaving the jaw bone with cavitations, which can be focal points of
Clearly it’s a good idea to seek treatment from a dentist at the first sign of infection since they can spread rapidly and cause complications. Recognizing and stopping an infection early can help prevent dangerous systemic effects. But even if you’re already fighting chronic disease, improving your dental health may be just what your body needs to finally heal itself.
Willershausen B., et al. Association between Chronic Dental Infection and Acute Myocardial Infarction. Journal of Endodontics. 2009 May; 35 (5), pp. 626-630.
Sandberg G.E., et al. Type 2 diabetes and oral health: A comparison between diabetic and non-diabetic subjects. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice. 2000 Sep; 50 (1), pp. 27-34.
Meurman J.H., et al. Dental infections and serum inflammatory markers in patients with and without severe heart disease. Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, Oral Pathology, Oral Radiology, and Endodontics. 2003 Dec;96(6):695-700.
Morell, S. Guide to Holistic Dentistry. The Weston A. Price Foundation. 1999 Dec 31.
Linsteadt, S., Boekemeyer, M. The Dental Connection to Chronic Illness. The Heart of Health: The Principles of Physical Health and Vitality. 2003
Written By: Updated: September 13,2010