Getting to the Heart of Dental Disease

by Dr. McBride | Date Published: 2017-03-19

Before the discovery of penicillin, Rheumatic Fever was quite often a fatal disease. Those who contracted it and survived most often were left with a valvular heart defect which was caused by bacteria in the blood stream (bacteremia) that colonized on the heart valves causing the damage. During this pre-penicillin era, Dr. Charles Bass*, a cardiologist, was the dean of Tulane University Medical School. Knowing the role of bacteria in this disease, he was at a loss to know how bacteria were introduced into the blood stream, as upon inspection of those children who had succumbed to the disease, he noted no cuts or bruises anywhere on their skin. Upon further inspection, he made an amazing discovery - without exception, each victim had inflamed gums. He saw that there was no "skin" or lining in the inner crevice between the gums and teeth, called a "sulcus." This discovery led him to conspire with Dr. Sumpter Arnum from the University of Texas Dental School to learn as much as he could about the "habits" of oral bacteria. Together, they discovered that colonies of bacteria "glue" onto the teeth and eventually grow into the crevices ("sulci") between the gums and teeth. Their waste products dissolve the epithelium (skin) lining next to the teeth. The bacteria then have an entry point into the blood stream. They also found out that if the bacterial colonies are broken up and removed from these areas, the gum lining grows back. They also discovered that after the colonies are removed, they reappear in approximately 24 hours. This research led to the "Bass," or sulcus brushing technique of introducing the toothbrush bristles into the sulcus around the teeth, and to this day is taught to dental students and hygienists. It is interesting to realize how one person's searching for an answer to a serious problem led him to discover a relatively simple preventive measure which is used routinely today.

It is our experience at the Dental Wellness Center and in my lectures, that when attendees or my new patients are asked whether a dentist or hygienist has ever had them demonstrate their self-care technique, only about 1 in 50 answers affirmatively. Similar to having a 16 year-old, having read a driver’s manual taking a drive on the freeway. This is a blight within the dental education system itself, where dentists and hygienists are primarily taught treatment techniques – not how to teach effectively.

At the Dental Wellness Center, we take gum disease seriously because we understand the significance of this mouth/body connection. Dr. Bass’ realization of bacteria from the mouth affecting the heart was authenticated 48 years later in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation March, 2013) citing groundbreaking research showing the direct connection between oral pathogens associated with periodontal disease and decay and acute heart attacks. The research tells us that “as many as half of heart attacks are being triggered by oral pathogens …. dental infections caused by them are associated with development of acute coronary thrombosis. Oral bacteria were found in every thrombus (clot), and 30% had live oral pathogens in the clot.” Similar findings were cited in the American Heart Association Stroke journal which cited similar results regarding clots in blood vessels that cause strokes (Stroke, February 2013). These findings affirm the high priority that we place in our patients attaining and maintaining healthy gums.

Research shows that 80 - 85% of the U.S. population either has or will develop some form of gum disease during their lifetime. If a patient that enters The Dental Wellness Center has gum disease, we are able to accurately diagnose and pinpoint its type and extent with the latest in diagnostic equipment, such as phase contrast microscopes and laboratory assessments that let us offer our patients effective, individually prescribed and monitored preventive and treatment protocols. The main reason people get healthy at the Dental Wellness Center is the passion of its team members that drives the time they take in educating and treating their patients to health. Not through just demonstration and lip service, but involving the patient in optimizing their self-care through coached skill learning backed by laboratory science. They form working relationships wherein patients become participants in their own health. Confidence is established as they experience a gain in their oral health through quantifiable test results, elimination of breath problems, and for sure, an improvement in their general health as well!

* Charles C. Bass, M.D. American Heart Journal, St. Louis, Vol.69, pages 718-719, May 1965 excerpts:

........."In almost all ailments of the heart caused by bacteria, the source of infection is known to be the pathologic and infected environment of the teeth."

".......the health, welfare and, even life itself, of persons who have heart conditions which predispose to infection may depend on prevention and control of dental disease."

".......bacteria in the periodontal pocket and in diseased periodontal tissues are the source of almost all bacteremia from the environment of the teeth."

".......I believe that, sometime in the future, leading cardiologists will wonder, in retrospect, how information so needed by their patients could have been overlooked or neglected for so long."

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