From a young age, we were always told to chew our food. Whether the advice can from a parent that wanted to keep us from choking or just wanted a few moments of uninterrupted silence as we deliberately munched on our peas and carrots, little did our folks know that preaching such a positive habit would actually improve our health.
In a recent study, researchers found that properly chewing your food can boost the oral immune system and help protect you against illness.
As part of a joint venture by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and The University of Manchester, the study discovered that a specific type of immune cell, known as Th17, can become stimulate as we chew. This immune cell plays an important role in protecting our bodies from fungal and bacterial infections that commonly occur in the mouth.
While it has long been known that the nutrients derived from food can boost the immune system, the findings of this latest study establish that the act of chewing itself also plays an important role.
Chewing Your Way to Better Health
In parts of the body like the skin and stomach, the presence of friendly bacteria works to stimulate Th17 cells; it was previously believed this was also what happened in the mouth.
However, researchers discovered that damaged caused by the act of chewing induced factors from the gums that could activate the same pathways as friendly bacteria can when stimulating Th17 cells.
The stimulation of Th17 cells to improve the immune system can act as a double-edge sword. An excessive amount of Th17 cells can actually contribute to the development of periodontal disease – a severe form of gum disease and the leading cause of adult tooth loss. Periodontal disease has also been linked to a variety of chronic health conditions that include cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.
Researchers noted that the immune system typically does a remarkable job of balancing the fight against harmful bacteria at areas of the body like the mouth, skin, and stomach while still tolerating the presence of healthy bacteria. The results of this study found that, unlike other barriers that prevent the entrance of harmful bacteria, the mouth stimulate Th17 cells in a different way – not through the interaction with bacteria but through mastication. Therefore, chewing can actually encourage a positive immune system response in gum tissue.
Published in the journal Immunity, researchers showed the ability to stimulate increases in the Th17 cells of mice by simply changing the hardness of their food, proving that chewing was an important factor. Th17 cells had a negative, however. Researchers were also able to show that increased damage from mastication could also exacerbate the bone loss caused by periodontal disease.
Since oral inflammation is linked to the development of disease throughout the body, understanding the specific tissue factors that regulate immunity at the oral barrier could eventually lead to new ways of treating a variety of inflammatory conditions.
Lowering the Risk of Periodontal Disease
For those without gum disease, thorough chewing offers a unique way to better protect the body from disease. However, to fully enjoy the benefit that Th17 cells have to offer, it’s vital that we do our best to protect our oral health.
Lowering our risk of gum disease requires practicing quality oral hygiene at home – brushing at least twice a day for two minutes each time and flossing daily – while also scheduling regular dental exams and cleaning with Seaside dentist Dr. Scott Santos.