When it comes to dental health, a lot has been said about inflammation and the importance of minimizing it: inflammation of the gums, or periodontitis, has been linked with systemic diseases, and ongoing research is finding more connections yearly.
But what is inflammation exactly?
Two sides of the same coin
There are two different types of inflammation commonly recognized by health professionals: acute inflammation and chronic inflammation.
Acute inflammation is the inflammation you see upon immediate injury, like spraining your ankle or cutting your leg while gardening. Acute inflammation is an intrinsic part of a healthy immune system. In fact, it’s the first step in healing in your body healing itself.
When the body responds to an injury via inflammation, it’s doing several jobs: cleaning the site of injury, fighting any bacterial invaders that could cause more trouble, and beginning the repair mechanisms necessary for healing. Most of this work is done by white blood cells, or WBCs—your body’s “first responders.”
Signs of inflammation
There are 4 cardinal signs of inflammation which were first noted back when Rome was still the center of the world, and thus they have Latin names: rubor, calor, tumor, and dolar. In English, these signs are redness, heat, swelling, and pain.
Redness occurs because there is an influx of blood to the site of injury. Blood carries oxygen, WBCs, platelets, and other critical components of healing.
Heat is caused by the increase in blood, but also because cellular activity near the injury has gone up significantly; the result of increased activity is increased heat.
Swelling (which has the unfortunate Latin name of “tumor”) happens when the capillaries and micro-vasculature around the site of injury becomes more porous in response to chemical signals. The fluid in the capillaries spills into the interstitial space, causing swelling.
Pain is the body’s way of letting us know an injury has occurred and we need to do something about it. In inflammation, the neurons become especially sensitized and send pain signals up to the brain.
Chronic: a different story
So far, everything we’ve talked about has been about acute inflammation—which is a completely normal and healthy process. What health professionals worry about is chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is characterized by extremely prolonged inflammation and simultaneous tissue break-up and rebuilding. Cytokines, chemical messengers that signal the inflammatory process in the body, circulate systemically.
These chemical messengers are very helpful in instances of acute inflammation; they bring more help to the area in need. In chronic inflammation, cytokine influence goes awry. For instance, they could increase the permeability not only of capillaries at the site of injury but any blood vessel at all. If the permeability of coronary arteries is increased, fatty plaques could be allowed in, leading to stenosis of the heart’s vessels.
When the gums are chronically inflamed, your Burlingame dentist isn’t only concerned about the redness, swelling, heat, and pain your gums are probably experiencing—we’re worried about the effect that long-term inflammation can have on the rest of your body. As we’ve mentioned, the impact could be serious– from cardiac disease to dementia.
Preventative dental care stops your gums from contributing to chronic inflammation in the body. Oral hygiene—especially flossing—is the best way to keep your mouth and body healthy. Make an appointment with your Burlingame dentist today to learn more about how great dental health can keep the rest of you smiling!