With COVID-19 playing a major role in all our lives today, many of us have started to look more closely at our bodies, our immune systems and what we can do to keep ourselves healthier. 

It may surprise you to learn that your mouth plays a major role in the strength of your immune system, and since trips to the dentist may be limited at this time, impeccable home care is critically important. 

As the first line of defense against many pathogens, from what we digest to particles in the air, a healthy oral cavity can be vital in keeping the rest of your body in its best shape. Millions of bacteria are present in the oral cavity, some good, some bad. When there are large amounts of bad bacteria in the mouth due to poor oral hygiene, our defense system can see this as an infection and release resources to try to eliminate it. This can put a strain on the immune system and take away from the body’s ability to adequately respond to other stressors; a constantly stressed immune system leads to more sickness overall. 

Research has shown that poor oral health can have deleterious effects on other parts of the body besides the mouth, including the heart, lungs and gastrointestinal system – all good reasons to focus closely on oral hygiene and diet if we want to be healthy.

Start with hydration 

One of the vital players in keeping a healthy mouth is our saliva. There are many enzymes and antibodies present in the saliva that help to repel and kill bacteria. A lack of saliva dampens our ability to fight off these bacteria. Medical conditions and medications can decrease the amount of saliva in the mouth, leading to more opportunity for bacteria to replicate. Staying well hydrated and keeping the mouth moist is very important to oral health. 

Immunity may affect cavities

Further reinforcing the importance of oral care, new research has shown that our immune system may play a previously unforeseen role in our susceptibility to cavities. One study discovered that neutrophils, a type of immune cell our body sends out in response to an infection, may lead to more breakdown of our teeth and fillings.1 Everyone’s immune system and response is different, but the study suggests that a strong immune response, which could result from excessive bacteria in the mouth, may have a negative effect in that our own body’s cells attack our teeth and fillings leading to more cavities. 

It could be suggested then that having good oral health could decrease the immune response in the oral cavity possibly helping to prevent decay. More research needs to be done, but the study brought up an interesting mechanism about how our immune system can affect cavities. 

Until your dental checkups resume, be sure you are correctly brushing, flossing and using a mouth rinse to maximize your oral health. Doing only one or two of these things gives more opportunity for bacteria to thrive. So, we all need to focus on integrating all three into our routine to further help us all be happy and healthy. 

Dr. Nick is with Palm Desert Smiles and can be reached at (760) 568.3602.

1) Acta Biomaterialia, Volume 88, 1 April 2019, Pages 325-331: Human neutrophils degrade methacrylate resin composites and tooth dentin

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