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The mouth bone is connected to the kidney bone. Per se.

by Dr. John Hall

If you have been following our newsletter, you understand that the mouth is indeed connected to the rest of the body, and its health can affect other very important organs and areas of the body.  We have talked about the heart, brain, lungs, joints, stomach, intestines, and others. Now, let’s take a look at the connection between the mouth and the kidneys.

The kidneys perform extremely important functions in keeping us well.  First, they remove water, waste and toxins from the blood and, ultimately, the body.  You already knew that! However, you may be surprised to learn that kidneys are also important in regulating the amount of calcium in the blood.  Calcium is important in bones, as we all know, but is also necessary for proper nerve function, blood clotting, and muscle function, including that of the heart.  In addition to all that, kidneys are also important in regulating blood pressure. Clearly, the kidneys are extremely important, and keeping them healthy is necessary for our staying alive.  

You should probably suspect by now that the health of the mouth can affect kidney health.  By that I mean that bad oral health can be bad news for the kidneys. Chronic kidney disease is a growing health problem in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control, and affects nearly 17% of adults over the age of 20.  That’s about 1 in 6 adults, so this is a topic that applies to a lot of people, and probably someone you know.

And, as you have heard before, gum disease can be a big culprit when it comes to affecting other parts of the body.  That includes the kidneys. For example, a study of 12,947 adults showed that people with gum disease, and those who had already lost teeth due to gum disease, were nearly twice as likely to have chronic kidney disease (60 percent and 85 percent, respectively).  Similar results were seen in a study that examined the kidney function and periodontal (gum) health of 4,053 U.S. adults 40 years of age and older. People who lost all their teeth were more likely to have chronic kidney disease than those who kept their natural teeth. 

Another study involved 2,276 people who had early gum disease, and 947 individuals who had severe gum disease.  Both early and severe gum disease were associated with a significant reduction in glomerular filtration rate (GFR).  A low GFR means the kidneys are not working as well as they should. A Japanese study showed basically the same thing.  This study involved 317 people aged 75 years or older. As with the other study, decreased kidney function (GFR) was associated with gum disease.   Also, early and severe gum diseases were each associated with an elevated serum creatinine level. Elevation of this chemical in the blood is another indicator that the kidneys are not functioning properly.

End-stage renal disease (ESRD) is when the kidneys are so sick they do not function well enough to maintain life.  Patients with ESRD have to go through regular dialysis or have a kidney transplant. These patients also experience a significantly increased rate of atherosclerosis in their arteries.  You remember atherosclerosis from our article on the mouth and heart disease. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of soft plaques in the arteries. These plaques continue to grow over time. Often, they get to the point where they finally rupture, and completely close off the arteries to the heart.  This causes a heart attack (or a stroke if it occurs in the brain). Unfortunately, the atherosclerotic plaques in patients with ESRD have more calcium in them, which makes them harder, and even more dangerous.  

As you have heard many times before in earlier issues of this newsletter, one of the major problems with gum disease is inflammation, and inflammation is the likely connection between the health of the mouth and the kidneys.  Both periodontal (gum) disease and chronic kidney disease are considered inflammatory conditions. Chronic inflammation is destructive, and untreated gum disease ultimately leads to tooth loss, and much, much more.

Inflammation plays a major role in the development of atherosclerotic plaques, mentioned above.  As you might guess, gum diseases, which are inflammatory, have been associated with increased atherosclerosis.  Inflammation also causes an increase in C-reactive protein (CRP), a protein found in the blood. CRP has been shown to be a sign that can predict diseases of the heart and blood vessels.  Gum disease also causes an elevation in serum CRP values. Not surprisingly, then, is a study that showed significantly elevated levels of CRP in ESRD patients with severe gum disease.

Results from another study suggest that dialysis patients who have elevated levels of antibody to bacterial species that can cause destructive gum diseases also have  elevated CRP values. Severe gum disease, then, is likely to make kidney disease, and the complications that can be related to kidney disease (heart disease, for example), even worse.

Also, inflammation is a potential risk for organ transplant rejection.  Besides inflammation, infections caused by the germs of gum disease or advanced tooth decay can be dangerous to a transplant patient.  So, people who need a kidney transplant undergo a thorough oral exam during their workup for the transplant. Any gum disease or tooth decay must be treated before transplantation.  

On top of all this, a study reported in the Lancet Oncology journal found that men with a history of gum disease have an increased risk of developing cancer.  The study, which lasted about 17 years and involved approximately 50,000 US men, showed a 49% higher risk for kidney cancer in those men with a history of gum disease. 

The bottom line to all the above is, the mouth is important when it comes to the kidneys.  Bad oral health can be bad for the kidneys, especially if you already have kidney disease. Gum disease can make kidney disease worse, even to the point of needing a kidney transplant, and it can keep you from even getting a transplant until the gum disease is under control.  Inflammation and germs from the mouth contribute to the problem. To help keep your kidneys healthy, or to keep things from getting worse if you have kidney disease, do everything you can to keep your mouth clean and healthy. Floss and brush several times each day. Maintain regular visits to your dentist.  Use a mouth rinse to help keep the mouth clean. TheraGel is drug-free, non-toxic, and safe to swallow. Rinsing with TheraGel can be a good addition to regular oral hygiene, and can help keep your mouth, and you, healthy.

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