Few of us think much about the health of our mouth lining unless our gums are swollen and red or if we have mouth pain. But the tissue lining your gums and the inside of your mouth is vitally important to keeping you safe from heart disease, joint pain, and brain disease. How do healthy gums protect you from all of that? Your mouth lining is a critical defense between infections in your mouth and the rest of your body. Bleeding, swollen, sore gums can point to a weak defense in the mouth and may affect one out of every two people. Very similar to the well-known leaky gut syndrome, leaky gum syndrome could be the underlying answer to many chronic diseases. Clinicians and consumers can use these natural treatments to reduce bacterial overgrowth, turn off inflammation, and heal the mouth lining. Turn bleeding gums into happy, pink gums. Your smile will shine and your body will thank you for it.
Thank you to our sponsor, OralDNA Labs, for making this blog possible.
What is leaky gum syndrome?
Leaky gum syndrome, or leaky mouth, is the condition of damaged gums and mouth tissues, which allows harmful microbes and inflammatory chemicals from the mouth into the bloodstream. Up to fifty percent of people have periodontal disease, or leaky gums, making this a potentially widespread problem.
Think of the mouth lining just like your skin, except it’s on the inside. When the gums and mouth lining develop tiny holes in them, foreign invaders can “leak” into the bloodstream, where they don’t belong. Bacteria living in pockets under the gumline can seep in, too. From there, these harmful invaders or chemicals can travel to the brain, heart, joints, uterus, and more.1 This may be the explanation for the oral-systemic link, the strong relationship observed between gum disease and many, many other whole-body illnesses (discussed later). You have probably heard of its more popular counterpart- leaky gut syndrome, which we will discuss next.
Symptoms of Leaky Gums
- Bleeding gums
- Puffy, swollen gums
- Sore or painful gums
- Periodontal disease (gum disease)
- Mouth sores
- Increased pocket depth over 3 mm, as measured by your dental hygienist
- Gums separating from teeth
- Tooth loss
The mouth lining is a defensive barrier that we need for optimum health. In a healthy mouth, the gums and mouth tissues are strong and can keep foreign invaders out of the bloodstream. The mouth lining and gums work with the immune system and the oral microbiome to prevent infections. While there is always some “leakiness” in the mouth, it is kept to a minimum in a healthy mouth with pink, happy, healthy gums.
Bleeding, sore gums, or loose connections between the gums and teeth are a sign of a weak barrier and a “leaky mouth.”
What is leaky gut syndrome?
Leaky gut, also known as intestinal permeability, describes a gut lining that is worn down and leaky. Little nicks and holes form in that gut barrier. As a result, large molecules can pass through the gut lining and enter the bloodstream, where they don’t belong. This might include food, bacteria, fungi, parasites, chemicals, and toxins, which can set off a serious immune reaction.
A healthy gut lining serves as a protective barrier between you and the outside world. The gut lining, your immune system, and friendly bacteria work together in harmony to analyze everything that comes into the gastrointestinal tract. This surveillance team makes sure that bad stuff is kept out of the body while the good stuff gets in.
If leaky gut occurs, it can break down this important defensive barrier, leaving the bloodstream open to invasion. Research shows increased intestinal permeability in autoimmune and chronic inflammatory diseases such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, chronic kidney dysfunction, cancer, and heart disease.2-5 Leaky gut is a central theory in integrative and functional medicine and in naturopathic medicine, where addressing gut health is a primary strategy when treating chronic illness.
Move over gut lining. Say hello to the mouth lining- your kissing cousin. A healthy mouth lining is absolutely essential for a healthy body and a tuned-up immune system. All of the excitement about leaky gut, yet very few people are talking about leaky gums, which happens just a little bit upstream.
Differences Between Leaky Gut and Leaky Gums
The mouth lining is different than the gut in a few important ways. The oral mucosa (as it is formally known) is not an iron-clad barrier. It is porous and selectively permeable. The mouth lining does a balancing act, trying to keep bad stuff out and let good stuff in. It is actually thicker and denser than the gut lining tissue. That’s probably because it is exposed to a wide range of microbes and their byproducts all day, every day.6
A huge disadvantage for the oral barrier is our set of teeth. That’s right, the mouth lining has it harder than the gut lining. Right there, in the middle of the barrier, are teeth that penetrate the barrier. The gut barrier doesn’t have to contend with teeth. In a healthy mouth, the gums surround the teeth, forming a seal around them. But even with this efficient design, each tooth that extends through the oral mucosa is a weak point in the barrier- an opportunity for invasion.
Bacteremia: The oral bacteria rushing through your veins that you didn’t even know about!
Remember how I said earlier that there is always some “leakiness,” even in a healthy mouth? Indeed, in healthy people, the oral mucosa is leaky enough to let bacteria enter the bloodstream, which is called bacteremia. Bacteremia means that high levels of bacteria flood into the blood even when we do simple activities like brushing our teeth, eating, or getting a dental cleaning.7,8
As I explain in my book, Heal Your Oral Microbiome, most oral bacteria are beneficial and friendly. But if you have oral dysbiosis, or an imbalance of mouth bacteria, you are effectively sending undesirable bugs coursing through your veins. Something else to know about bacteremia is that the body clears it. Bacteremia is a normal fact of life. But bacteremia could be much, much worse in people who have bleeding, puffy, sore gums or “leaky gum” symptoms.
What Causes Bleeding Gums, Pain, and Gums Separating from Teeth (Leaky Gum Syndrome)?
- Oral dysbiosis
- Lack of dental hygiene and dental visits
- Low levels of protective, good bacteria
- Mouth breathing
- Inflammatory, high-sugar diet
- Poor immune defenses
- Weak mouth tissues
- Hormone imbalances
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Genetic risk
What is the oral-systemic link?
The oral-systemic link, also known as the oral-systemic connection, describes the tight relationship between oral health and systemic disease that is now well documented and accepted by researchers and clinicians around the world. Disease in the mouth, such as gum disease, correlates with disease in far-off “systemic” sites in the body, including the joints, the brain, the cardiovascular system, the uterus (preterm births), head and neck cancers, and more. Your precious mouth lining is the key to this oral-systemic link. Suffice it to say that when you mind your oral health, you are doing a favor for your entire body, head to toe.
Diseases That Fall Under the Oral-Systemic Connection
These systemic diseases are more common in people with gum disease, also known as periodontal disease. If you have bleeding, swollen gums, gingivitis, or gum disease and you have one or more of the systemic conditions listed below, then your oral health is likely contributing to systemic disease. In other words, the problem in your mouth is harming other parts of your body.
Head and neck cancers13
High CRP in blood
Inflammatory bowel disease14
If you have one of these conditions with a history of “bad teeth” or lots of dental work, or if you get worse after dental work, then your mouth could be a major player in your illness.
Can Leaky Gut Cause Gum Problems?
It’s unlikely that leaky gut will cause gum problems. However, the mouth and the gut are just two stops on the same bus line. If you have leaky gut, then it is completely possible to develop gum problems, such as leaky gums. Likewise, if you have bleeding, sore, painful gums, or your dentist tells you that you have gum disease, then you could easily develop leaky gut. Literally, they are connected. But also, your mouth and gut lining may be reacting similarly to whatever is the root cause of your leakiness. They may both be inflamed due to oral or gut dysbiosis, inflammatory foods, irritants, nutritional depletion, or other causes. A gut barrier- or an oral barrier- that is weak exposes the whole body to more harm.
Treatments for Leaky Gum Syndrome or Leaky Mouth
Leaky gum syndrome, or as I called it back in 2015, “leaky mouth” is in its infancy. Most dentists don’t talk about or recognize it. It’s even pretty new for integrative and functional medicine practitioners. Lucky for us, leaky gut is well understood. Today it is embraced by researchers and conventional medical practitioners, not only by integrative and functional medicine practitioners, as it was in the past. Even better, the mouth and the gut are surprisingly similar, as discussed in, Heal Your Oral Microbiome. In fact, they are nearly identical. We can borrow from what we know about leaky gut treatments to heal unhealthy, leaky gums.
Successful treatment of leaky gum syndrome should:
(1) Reduce overgrowth of bad bacteria (oral dysbiosis)
(2) Reduce inflammation
(3) Heal the mouth lining and gum tissue
Many of these supplements for leaky gums are also used as leaky gut treatments. This is not an all-inclusive list. Breathing through the nose, adequate sleep, and plenty of water are also needed for healthy gums.
Reduce Bacterial Overgrowth
Dental hygiene is critical for keeping mouth tissue healthy. Brushing twice daily, flossing, and visiting your dentist for regular cleanings help to keep mouth bacteria healthy and catch gum problems before they start.
Periodontal treatments may include scaling and root planning if you have gum disease. This non-surgical therapy removes bacteria (also called plaque) above and below the gum line and in periodontal pockets. It clears out bacterial overgrowth so that the gums and immune system can heal, as seen in this case study. It helps the gums reattach to the teeth and helps to rebuild the oral barrier.
Oral Pathogen Testing is used by dentists, periodontists, and other health practitioners to pinpoint which bad bacteria might be causing gum disease or bleeding gums. OralDNALabs’ MyPerioPath panel tests for 11 periodontal pathogens with quantitative PCR. Results from this simple saliva test can guide clinical care to stop gum disease and promote tissue healing and immune recovery.
Oral probiotics reduce periodontal pathogens (or bad oral bacteria). They reduce inflammation in the mouth. They encourage good bacteria and crowd out the bad. Since bad bacteria can contribute to leaky gum syndrome, balancing the oral microbiome with beneficial bacteria can counteract gum disease.
Oil pulling is an Ayurvedic tradition that seems to balance bad bacteria and fungi, without harming good bacteria. It doesn’t dry out and strip the mouth lining, instead leaving it moisturized, which could support bleeding gums or mouth pain.
Antimicrobials or antibiotics, at the direction of a healthcare practitioner, can reduce bacterial overgrowth in the mouth. These should be used with caution as they can further imbalance the good oral bacteria.
Aloe vera is a cooling and anti-inflammatory medicinal plant. It’s not only used on the skin. It can be used internally, too. Using anti-inflammatory botanicals to cool off and soothe inflammation in the mouth lining can promote healing of the mouth barrier.
Choose an anti-inflammatory, whole-foods diet with plenty of colorful vegetables and fruits, greens, lean protein, nuts and seeds, and fiber. What you eat all day and everyday has a tremendous effect on the microbes in your mouth and gut. It also sends chemical messages to your mouth lining and gums. Fiber acts as a prebiotic for healthy oral bacteria. Avoid sugar and packaged foods, which promote unhealthy oral bacteria.
Go 100% gluten-free for two months. The main protein in wheat, called gliadin, damages the connections between cells and damages the gut barrier.16 Avoid gluten to see if your leaky gums or mouth pain improve.
Choose non-toxic oral hygiene products. Your gum problems could be caused simply by the toothpaste, mouthwash, or floss that you are using. Red flag warning ingredients include sodium lauryl sulfate, diethanolamine, and triclosan. Avoid drying mouthwashes that contain alcohol as well as “non-stick” floss coated with Teflon-like polyfluorolalkyl substances, such as Glide.
Heal the Gums and Mouth Lining
L-Glutamine is an amino acid used as a fuel source for cells in the gut and mouth lining. It can help epithelial cells heal and improve their connections to neighboring cells, making the barrier stronger and healthier. Glutamine is important for many functions in the body and is a popular leaky gut supplement.
Slimy and slippery herbs such as slippery elm and okra. The mouth lining is covered in mucus, or snot. Lovely, right? Sometimes adding more slippery and slimy botanicals can give the mouth lining what it needs for protection and to allow it to heal.
Vitamins can promote a healthy, beautiful, strong mouth barrier that resists infection and heals more quickly. B vitamins, vitamin C, and CoQ10 are just a few of the nutrients that can treat bleeding gums, mouth sores, and burning tongue. These and more are discussed in my blog, Vitamins for Oral Health.
Treat Gum Problems
Called the oral-systemic link, it is now clear that preventing disease throughout the body begins in the mouth. Leaky gums could be the explanation for how oral health is linked to systemic diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, and more. Similar to the well-documented phenomena of leaky gut syndrome, leaky mouth can break down immune defenses and leave the body open to invasion. That means that symptoms of bleeding gums, or puffy, sore gums can lead to a downward spiral of other related illnesses. Testing can help to identify and treat oral pathogens that harm the gums, teeth, and bones. Treatments can stop oral dysbiosis, turn off inflammation, and heal the mouth lining. By reversing leaky gum syndrome, you can get rid of painful gums while also strengthening the immune system and protecting the body from infection.
About OralDNA Labs
OralDNA® Labs is breaking barriers through innovation and a mission to help healthcare providers treat, heal, and inspire oral and overall health through salivary diagnostics. They are widely known for MyPerioPath® – which identifies 11 oral pathogens known to threaten oral and systemic health. Their menu offers options ranging from bacterial and viral analysis to the identification of genetic inflammatory markers – all from one simple 30-second oral rinse collection. When you sign up to become an OralDNA® provider, you benefit from years of experience and knowledge, and can rely on the services and support you need to deliver the best patient care possible. Get started TODAY!
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Cass Nelson-Dooley, MS, is a researcher, author, educator, and laboratory consultant. She studied medicinal plants in the rain forests of Panama as a Fulbright Scholar and then launched a career in science and natural medicine. Early on, she studied ethnobotany, ethnopharmacology, and drug discovery at the University of Georgia and AptoTec, Inc. She joined innovators at Metametrix Clinical Laboratory as a medical education consultant helping clinicians use integrative and functional laboratory results in clinical practice. She owns Health First Consulting, LLC, a medical communications company with the mission to improve human health using the written word. Ms. Nelson-Dooley is an oral microbiome expert and author of Heal Your Oral Microbiome. She was a contributing author in Laboratory Evaluations for Integrative and Functional Medicine and Case Studies in Integrative and Functional Medicine. She has published case studies, book chapters, and journal articles about the oral microbiome, natural medicine, nutrition, laboratory testing, obesity, and osteoporosis.