As your general dentist in Aloha, Dr. Slater wants to ensure that all of his patients enjoy the best oral health possible. While practicing quality oral hygiene at home – which includes brushing twice a day and flossing daily – and scheduling regular exams with Dr. Slater are some of the best habits for protecting your long-term oral health, a new study also suggests that how we chew our food may also play a role.
Researchers have found that chewing your food properly can actually boost the oral immune system and help protect against illness.
The study was led by teams from the National Institutes of Health and The University of Manchester. In the study they revealed that a certain type of immune cell, referred to as Th17 cell, can become stimulated during chewing.
This immune cell plays an important role in protecting against fungal and bacterial infections that commonly occur in the mouth.
While science has long understood that the nutrients from the foods we consume can help to boost the body’s immune system, the finding of this latest study establish that the act of eating itself plays an important role as well.
Improving the Mouth’s Immune System
In other areas of the body, such as the skin and gut, Th17 cells are stimulated by the presence of friendly bacteria. Researchers previously believed this was also true in the mouth.
However, researchers discovered that damage caused by the forceful act of chewing induced factors from gum tissue that could stimulate the same pathways as friendly bacteria and act upon Th17 cells.
Stimulating Th17 cells for immune protection can be a double-edged sword. Too many Th17 cells can actually contribute to the development of periodontitis, a common form of gum disease linked to complications in a number of diseases, including heart problems, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes.
“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,” explains lead researcher Dr. Joanne Konkel.
“Our research shows that, unlike at other barriers, the mouth has a different way of stimulating Th17 cells: not by bacteria but by mastication. Therefore, mastication can induce a protective immune response in our gums.”
Published in the journal Immunity, researchers were successfully able to show an ability to stimulate increases in TH17 cells in mice by simply changing the hardness of their food, proving that mastication, or chewing, was the critical factor.
However, the stimulation of Th17 cells did have a negative effect. Researchers discovered that the increased damage that occurred by chewing could also exacerbate the bone loss caused by periodontitis.
Dr. Konkel added, “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.”
Lowering Your Risk of Gum Disease
Based on these findings, it seems that thoroughly chewing your food can successfully lower the risk of gum disease. The only potentially significant drawback is for individuals who already suffer from periodontal disease. For these patients, excess chewing may lead to the further loss of the underlying bone structure that hold teeth into position.
To prevent the development of gum disease, it’s important to remember the three basics of tenants of quality oral health:
- Brush and floss daily
- Eat a balanced diet
- Schedule regular exams and cleanings with your general dentist in Aloha
Follow these three basic principles and you’ll enjoy healthy teeth and gums that will last a lifetime.