As a biological dentist in Denver, our team at the McGinty Dental Group strives to educate our patients about how interconnected our oral health is with our overall health. In recent years, for example, a growing amount of research has found compelling links between that state of our oral health and a variety of chronic long-term illnesses. Studies have found that patients who suffer from gum disease and tooth decay have a higher risk of developing a range of chronic health conditions that include cardiovascular disease, stroke, dementia, diabetes, and cancer. Now a new study has found that not only what we eat but how we eat can actually improve our health.
According to researchers from the National Institutes of Health and The University of Manchester, chewing your food correctly can boost your oral immune system to better protect the body from illness. The study revealed that a specific type of immune cell – Th17 – becomes stimulated when we chew.
While researchers have long known that the nutrients from the foods we eat can support a healthy immune system, the findings of this latest study are the first to establish that the act of chewing itself also plays an important role.
The results of this study were published in the journal Immunity.
Chewing Our Way to Better Health
In other areas of the body like the skin and stomach, Th17 cells becomes stimulated by the presence of friendly bacteria. Researchers had previously assumed the same was true in the mouth.
However, researchers discovered that damage caused by the abrasion of chewing induced factors from the gums that could activate the same pathways as friendly bacteria and stimulate Th17 cells.
Complicating matters, however, is that the stimulation of Th17 cells for the purpose of improving the immune system can actually cause worse oral health in some individuals. An excess of Th17 cells can contribute to the development of periodontitis, a common gum disease that studies have linked to the chronic health issues mentioned before.
“The immune system performs a remarkable balancing act at barrier sites such as the skin, mouth, and gut by fighting off harmful pathogens while tolerating the presence of normal friendly bacteria,” said lead researcher Dr. Joanne Konkel in Immunity.
“Our research show that, unlike at other barrier, the mouth has a different way to stimulating Th17 cells: not by bacteria but by mastication. Therefore, mastication can induce a protective immune response in our gums.”
In the study, researchers were able to show the stimulation of Th17 cells in mice by simply changing the hardness of their food, proving that mastication was the critical factor.
However, Th17 cells also demonstrated a potential problem, “We were also able to show that increased damage from mastication could also exacerbate bone loss in periodontitis,” explains Dr. Konkel.
“Importantly, because inflammation in the mouth is linked to the development of diseases all around the body understanding the tissue-specific factors that regulate immunity at the oral barrier could eventually lead to new ways to treat multiple inflammatory conditions.”
Improved Oral Care
Based on the findings of researchers, it seems like making sure to chew your food could very well help improve the body’s immune system. Problems with excess chewing could develop in patients that currently suffer from periodontitis. Fortunately, lowering our patient’s risk of periodontitis is part of what we do as your biological dentist in Denver.
Scheduling regular exams and cleanings with our team will help to significantly lower your risk of developing early or late stage gum disease. Additionally, as a biological dentist in Denver, our team at the McGinty Dental Group also offers additional treatment methods designed to utilize a holistic approach to improving patient care.
Our oral and overall health are connected. From the benefits of chewing to lowering the risk of chronic disease, how we tend to our oral health can dramatically shape our health now and into the future.