You do it every day (I hope), but are your doing it correctly?
We all know that certain germs can cause disease and even death if they manage to enter your body and overcome your immune defenses. Meningitis, staph infections, tetanus, and pneumonia are just a few. Bacteria cause disease by rapidly dividing and secreting toxins that are harmful to your cells; or the disease comes as a result of your body’s immune response to these toxins (for example, fluid build-up in the lungs from pneumonia).
Your body is constantly defending itself from pathogenic bacterial invasion. It’s a survival mechanism encoded in your genes.
The part of your immune system that prevents bacteria from gaining entry is called non-specific immunity, which means it is present all the time and not activated by a particular pathogen. They are present in areas of your body where there is a high concentration of germs:
- Skin – your skin is a layer of hardened, dead cells that bacteria cannot penetrate, unless there is a cut.
- Eyes – your tears wash out bacteria and have enzymes that kill them
- Mucus membranes – mucus lining your nasal passageways, trachea, lungs, mouth and GI tract form a barrier to bacteria. The upper and lower respiratory tract have tiny hairs (cilia) that move the mucus to the back of the throat for swallowing into the stomach where they are neutralized.
- Reproductive tract – the vagina and urethra, in addition to having mucus membranes are acidic, which prevents bacterial growth
- Large intestine – this organ relies on “good” bacteria colonies to prevent “bad” bacterial colonies from multiplying.
- Mouth – saliva washes bacteria down the throat for neutralizing in the stomach; friendly oral bacteria prevent bad bacteria from overpopulating.
When bacteria do make it through these barriers, the “big guns” of your immune system take over the job of destroying them — your white blood cells, antibodies and other immune factors.
So, what is the “underrated” preventive health measure I am referring to?
It has to do with #6 – your mouth, or oral cavity.
The teeth, gums, tongue and oral lining are chock full of bacteria. The food you eat, especially if it is not recently cooked and hot (such as a cold deli sandwich or salad) contains all kinds of germs from handling; some pathogenic like E. coli, salmonella, or campylobacter.
If you don’t brush and floss adequately after a meal (especially one high in sugar and grains/wheat) and as a result have poor oral hygiene–cavities, plaque build up, gingivitis, white tongue– you are creating perfect conditions for continuous bacterial toxin infection. The bacteria multiply and can enter your bloodstream via bleeding gums and aggressive dental procedures such as tooth extractions, root canals, and deep cleaning/ periodontal work.
And are you aware that harmful bacteria may survive your stomach acid and make their way into your circulation?
Although the vast majority of swallowed bacteria are killed by stomach acid (except H. pylori, which can survive in the stomach), it’s not always the case.
Realize that the level and strength of stomach acid and digestive enzymes vary depending on what’s currently inside your stomach. Large meals, especially if they are diluted with water (drinks consumed with the meal) will dilute the strength (concentration) of stomach acid. And, some people do not produce enough stomach acid altogether. This can present an opportunity for pathogenic bacteria to pass into the gut and settle anywhere in your body– heart, liver, brain, etc. And, if you have a stomach ulcer, bacterial access to your bloodstream is more direct.
Pathogenic agents [bacteria] may also remain at their primary oral site but the toxins liberated can reach an organ or tissue via the bloodstream and cause metastatic injury. Finally, metastatic inflammation may result from an immunological injury caused by oral bacteria or their soluble products that enter the bloodstream and react with circulating specific antibodies to form macromolecular complexes. – Microbes Infect. 2000 Jul;2(8):897-906.
This means that it’s entirely possible to develop systemic inflammation via your body’s immune response to bacterial toxins coming from your mouth. And, you and your doctor may not be aware of the connection.
If you have cardiovascular problems, you are at a higher risk:
… in patients with ineffective heart valves or vascular diseases, bacteremia [bacteria in the blood] can be a potential danger, leading most commonly to infective endocarditis and myocardial or cerebral infarction. Other forms of systemic diseases such as brain abscesses, hematological infections and implant infections have also been related to oral microorganisms. – Endod Dent Traumatol. 1994 Apr;10(2):57-65.
The Bottom Line:
Be aware that harmful bacteria on your teeth, gums and tongue can make it into your body via the blood vessels in your gums and stomach so pay extra attention to maintaining excellent oral hygiene.
I personally spend about 15 minutes brushing, flossing and using a rubber-tipped gum instrument to clear out food debris everywhere it can be found — between teeth, behind teeth, at the gum line, and on the tongue.
I make sure to brush my tongue until it is all pink, with no white residue residue remaining (towards the end of brushing my teeth, I often add a little bit more toothpaste to my toothbrush just for the tongue, which I do last). White film on your tongue is comprised of microscopic food particles that are being digested by bacteria, enabling them to thrive and multiply, so make it a point to get as much of it off your tongue as you can.
If you don’t feel like “100%,” have low energy, brain fog, or often get sick, then it may be that germs in your mouth are making their way into your body and creating inflammatory havoc. Don’t let your mouth be a breeding ground for bacteria that are out to make you sick!
THOROUGHLY brush and floss in the morning and after your last meal of the day; and also after lunch mid day if you can– it’s a low cost, highly effective preventive health measure that should be a permanent part of your daily routine.