The oral-systemic link is a theory in dental and medical professions that bridges the health of the mouth with the total health of the body. For dentists and dental professionals that believe in the oral-systemic link, diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis can lead to not only to tooth and bone loss but also to major health complications. The health complications include conditions like heart attack, stroke, diabetes and now even colorectal cancer.
Deaths from colorectal cancer rank third of all cancer-related deaths in both men and women in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Colorectal cancer is cancer or the colon or rectum and is characterized by polyps that develop in the lower intestine. Symptoms include abdominal pain, weight loss, and problems in the digestive and elimination systems of the body. Causes of color rectal cancer include diet, family history, and according to researchers at the Harvard University Chan School of Public Health, fusobacteria.
Fusobacteria is a type of bacterium which is commonly found in the mouth. They are contributors to dental plaque, the sticky film that builds up on the teeth and is the cause of tooth decay and gum disease. Plaque occurs when particles of food that have not been brushed, flossed or rinsed away from the teeth meet with saliva. Saliva, a key element to digestion, breaks down these particles, leaving bacteria in the mouth.
The research by Harvard suggests that fusobacteria travel through the bloodstream to the colon and binds themselves to precancerous polyps. Fusobacteria has been shown to attach themselves to existing polyps in the colon of adult mice, and to expedite the formation of colorectal tumors. The study also identified the presence of fusobacteria in cancerous colorectal tissue, but not in healthy tissues also found in the digestive tract.
Many times, colorectal cancer metastasizes or spreads, from the colon to other parts of the digestive tract. One part of the digestive tract that is usually affected by colorectal cancer is the liver. During the study, researchers examined adult mice that had cancer spread to the liver, and noted the presence of the mouth based bacteria, compared to no evidence of the bacteria in the healthy livers of other adult mice without cancer.
The Harvard study was the first of its kind to identify the transmission of fusobacteria of the mouth to the intestine, and to examine the impact of the bacteria on colorectal tumors and polyps. The research is important to both dentists and physicians, as they work to develop treatments to protect both oral and total body health.
One dentist that believes in the oral-systemic link is Dr. James Erpenbach, D.D.S. Erpenbach, a Knoxville, haveTennessee, dentist and a founding member of The American Academy for Oral Systemic Health. Erpenbach connects the health of the mouth to the rest of the body, "Bacteria found in the mouth can travel to the heart and cause the lining of the heart to be infected. It can travel to the rest of the body, causing inflammation and illness and wreak havoc on other systems, too."
Fusobactehas have also been found to disable the body’s immune system from fighting off tumors and cancerous cells. Fusobacteria adopts a protein found in the tumors bacteria’s defense system. This defense allows for the rapid growth and spread of the disease throughout the body.
Practicing good hygiene is a way to reduce bacterial growth, says Erpenbach. "Routine and good hygiene at home, which includes regular and proper brushing and flossing, helps to reduce the growth of bacteria in the mouth," he explains. Additionally, Erpenbach urges patients to see their dentist for regular cleanings and to have their gums checked. "With gingivitis and other periodontal diseases, dentists can test the bacteria found in the mouth to identify and discuss the potential hazards of choosing to let their gum disease go untreated."