Poor oral hygiene causes more than just smelly breath – it can lead to metabolic syndrome

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  • Poor oral hygiene may cause gum disease
  • A specific bacterium responsible for gum disease is known to cause metabolic syndrome
  • Recently, researchers found that the metabolic function of skeletal muscle is also influenced by this bacterium

Gum disease (medically known as periodontal bacterial infection) is usually caused by poor oral hygiene and contributes greatly to the risk of developing metabolic syndrome.

What is metabolic syndrome? 

Metabolic syndrome describes a group of conditions – high blood pressure, high blood sugar, obesity and high cholesterol – that increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes. 

Sugar distribution in the body

Insulin helps transport glucose from the blood to different tissues in the body, including skeletal muscle. Insulin resistance is a major factor in the development of metabolic syndrome. One-quarter of the glucose in the body is stored in skeletal muscle, meaning skeletal muscles play an important role in lowering blood glucose levels.

Despite skeletal muscles playing a vital role in lowering glucose levels, no direct link has been made between gum disease (periodontal bacterial infection) and the metabolic function of skeletal muscle – until recently.

How can gum disease cause changes in skeletal muscle?

In a recent study, researchers found that the specific bacterium that causes gum disease (known as Porphyromonas gingivalis) is responsible for skeletal muscle metabolic dysfunction. This means that these muscles fail to take up and store glucose properly because of the bacterium.

“The goal of our study was to investigate how periodontal bacterial infection might lead to metabolic alterations in skeletal muscle and thus to the development of metabolic syndrome,” co-author of the study, Kazuki Watanabe, explained. 

The first part of the study involved analysing the blood of patients with metabolic syndrome. Researchers found a link between Porphyromonas gingivalis infection and metabolic syndrome. In the second part of the study, they turned to mice in order to establish mechanisms behind this link.

They found that when they gave mice Porphyromonas gingivalis by mouth, their insulin resistance increased and glucose uptake in skeletal muscle became lower.

How is it possible for a germ in the mouth to disrupt bodily function to such an extent?

Researchers turned to the gut to answer this question, and they found that in mice infected with the “gum disease” bacterium, gut bacteria were significantly altered.

Corresponding author of the study Professor, Sayaka Katagiri, stated, “These are striking results that provide a mechanism underlying the relationship between infection with the periodontal bacterium Porphyromonas gingivalis and the development of metabolic syndrome, and metabolic dysfunction in skeletal muscle.”

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