While many people put off their regular trips to the dentist, recent research has shown that the consequences of doing so may go beyond cavities and root canals. From heart disease to diabetes, poor oral health is often a reflection of a person’s overall health and may even be the cause of systemic disease.
A new collaborative study from the University of Michigan Medical and Dental Schools reveals that inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, may be the latest condition made worse by poor oral health.
Nobuhiko Kamada, assistant professor, has been studying gut bacteria for years. He noted an emerging link in research literature between an overgrowth of bacteria that are normally found in the mouth in the guts of people with IBD: “I decided to approach the dental school to ask the question, does oral disease affect the severity of gastrointestinal diseases?”
The new mouse study, published in Cell, shows two pathways by which oral bacteria appear to worsen gut inflammation. In the first pathway, gum disease leads to an imbalance in the normal healthy microbiome found in the mouth, with an increase of bacteria that cause inflammation. These disease-causing bacteria then travel to the gut. In the second proposed pathway, gum disease activates the immune system’s T-cells in the mouth. These T-cells travel to the gut where they too exacerbate inflammation.
The study has implications for novel treatments for IBD, necessary because “far too many patients still fail medications, leading to reduced quality of life and eventual surgery,” says study co-author Shrinivas Bishu, assistant professor of gastroenterology.