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Oral Health and the Systemic Link

The link between inflammation, oxidative stress and systemic disease is an important area of interest in medicine, particularly in vascular medicine. Oral infection and periodontal disease have been identified as risk factors and studies published by the New England Journal of Medicine and Journal of the American College of Cardiology affirm the link between periodontal disease and vascular disease, including heart attack and stroke.

Oxidative Stress in the Oral Tissue

When there are too many free radicals, or oxidants, in the body, the imbalance is called oxidative stress. In the oral cavity, oxidative stress is associated with infection or inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and other soft tissues (periodontitis). But factors including alcohol consumption, exposure to nicotine, dental procedures, bleaching agents, dental cements and composite fillings also lead to oxidative stress. And oxidative stress in the oral cavity can be a major contributor to systemic oxidative stress--which leads to chronic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or vascular disease including heart attack or stroke.

Free Radicals

Just what is a free radical? It's an unstable molecule with an unpaired electron. In a process called oxidation, the unpaired electron steals electrons from other molecules, creating new unstable free radicals. Sometimes free radicals are called oxidants because they cause the oxidation process. Free radicals occur naturally in the body but can be increased by environmental and lifestyle factors, such as stress, pollutants or poor diet, and other substances, such as nicotine or alcohol. In the oral cavity, dental procedures and materials such as bleaching agents, dental cements and composite fillings can also increase the level of free radicals.


Antioxidants are molecules that counteract the process of oxidation. The large, complex antioxidant molecules can bond with the unpaired electrons of free radicals, effectively neutralizing the oxidation process. Some of the most effective antioxidants come from fruits and vegetables; dietary antioxidant supplements are also available.

An emerging and exciting means of countering the effects of free radicals is topical antioxidants, which are applied and not ingested. Research has already proven the effectiveness of topical antioxidants on skin cells. New research is demonstrating that combinations of antioxidants can be applied topically to oral cells to neutralize free radicals in oral tissues.



Featured Content

Article in Press - Archives of Oral Biology (2011)
Bioactive antioxidant mixtures promote proliferation and migration on human oral fibroblasts

Antioxidants (AO) are the first line of defence against free radical damage and are critical for maintaining optimum health and well being. The need for AOs becomes even more critical with increased...

Journal of Dental Research November 2010 vol. 89 no. 11 1241-1246
Oxidative Stress, Systemic Inflammation, and Severe Periodontitis

Periodontal infections have been associated with a state of chronic inflammation. To ascertain whether severe periodontitis and its treatment are associated with oxidative stress, we recruited 145 cases (periodontitis) and 56 controls...

Journal of Periodontology 2010 Nov;81(11):1675-90
Antioxidants Counteract Nicotine and Promote Migration via RacGTP in Oral Fibroblast Cells

Smoking is associated with an increased risk of oral health and dental problems, and may impair wound healing by increasing reactive oxygen species (ROS) and inhibiting cell migration. Treatment with antioxidant (AO)...

Journal of Dental Research January 2011 vol. 90 no. 1 47-52
Fatty Acid Profiles in Smokers with Chronic Periodontitis

Smoking is associated with specific structural alterations to the lipid-A-derived 3-OH fatty acid profile in saliva that are consistent with an oral microflora of reduced inflammatory potential. These findings provide much-needed mechanistic...

Journal of Dentistry 2009 Dec;37(12):932-6
Reaction kinetics of sodium ascorbate and dental bleaching gel.

The aim of this study was to establish the reaction kinetics of 35% hydrogen peroxide and sodium ascorbate and to determine the mass of antioxidant required to neutralize the bleaching gel. The...

Journal of Dentistry 2009 Jun;37(6):413-23.
Polyphenols, oral health and disease: A review.

Consistent, well-designed, epidemiological, animal and in vitro studies directly and indirectly support the preventive polyphenol effect against oral cancer with good evidence.