Being a periodontist who wants to tell a story, I’ll get into mitochondria’s influence on periodontal disease.
Do you like science fiction? I’ve got a story to tell you that sounds like a simulating SciFi movie. My trailer to the movie would talk about the invasion of bacteria into an entity that eventually becomes a walking, talking, functioning “human being”. Interested?
Well, I’m referring to bacteria that invaded living cells and became something called mitochondria. These mitochondria became responsible for overall health as well as overall disease in our body — let me explain how.
The First Living Organisms
My “SciFi” story begins a long, long time ago – about 4 billion years ago. Life began on earth as a single-celled organism with no nucleus. But then the story jumps forward 2 billion years.
About 2 billion years ago, bacteria were among the first living organisms. Some of these single-celled bacteria fed on organic compounds to create energy.
These bacteria created carbon dioxide and hydrogen as waste products. Other single-celled organisms in existence at the same time fed only on carbon dioxide and hydrogen.
Then, an extraordinary and life-changing event occurred.
A few of the bacteria producing energy from organic compounds successfully entered some of these single-celled organisms, which could not create their own energy from organic compounds. Eventually, these bacteria set up shop in their host cells.
The invading bacteria created energy for their single-celled host organisms. Now the host cells, with a self-contained energy source from the new resident bacteria, could evolve into multi-celled and more-complex entities.
The gradual development of these structures eventually led to the makeup of our human cells, each with a self-contained energy-production machine. The origin of this energy-production machine was ancient bacteria. These organelles are called mitochondria.
My SciFi story then becomes a real-life story.
Every cell in our body, with the exception of red blood cells, has mitochondria to create the energy to keep it alive. The mitochondria are embedded within the cytoplasm of our trillions of human cells.
Some individual cells have only a few mitochondria; our most active cells (like heart muscle) may contain as many as 2,400 mitochondria per cell.
If these bacteria-like structures in our body’s cells did not function properly, we would get sick – very sick – and eventually would die. And so, bacteria ultimately made us into the walking, talking, functioning human beings, which we are.
Functions of Mitochondria
My story continues with the invading bacteria, which evolved into mitochondria, becoming a vital component in the human body.
The mitochondria primarily are the batteries of the cell. If the batteries fail, the cell ultimately dies.
However, energy production is not the only purpose of our mitochondria. Mitochondria also produce heat as necessary, assist in calcium signaling within the host cell and throughout the body, and will induce cell death (apoptosis) when its host cell is damaged beyond repair.
In addition, mitochondria regulate insulin in the cell, synthesize cholesterol and other steroids, and participate in other functions required by specialized cells.
Another critical function of mitochondria is to interact intimately with other organelles of the cell, especially peroxisomes, to create cellular balance.
Mitochondria produce waste products called free radicals, which must be neutralized. If free radicals are not neutralized, the mitochondria could become damaged beyond repair. Then, the cell would not be able to function as it was designed.
For example, a liver cell would not be able to function as a healthy liver cell; a brain cell would not be able to function as a healthy brain cell; a gum tissue cell would not be able to function as a healthy gum tissue cell. In some situations, the cell might begin to replicate out-of-control and become cancerous.
Periodontal Disease & Mitochondria
When everything is working correctly, the mitochondria are healthy and functioning at the top of their game. Problems develop when our mitochondria are compromised and become dysfunctional. Dysfunctional mitochondria are responsible for all chronic diseases.
One chronic disease is periodontal disease.
So, it appears that healthy mitochondria are critical for our oral health, for our cells’ health, and for our existence. Healthy mitochondria are supported by nutrient-dense foods, efficient exercise, restorative sleep, and reduction of stress.
If mitochondria are not firing on all cylinders, disease will occur.
Also, the gut microbiome is important for the health of mitochondria. The beneficial bacteria in the gut will produce active biochemicals including short-chain fatty acids from fiber and amino acids in food.
The biologically active substances created by beneficial bacteria feed healthy mitochondria, support the cells that line the colon, and actually increase diversity in healthy gut bacteria.
Since ancient bacteria were the precursors of our modern-day mitochondria, the needs of the mitochondria in our cells are similar to the needs of healthy gut bacteria. There is actually “cross-communication” between our gut’s garden of bacteria and our mitochondria.
Another important nutrient in all of this is vitamin K2.
Vitamin K2 is produced by healthy gut bacteria. This vitamin is also available in some fermented foods, organ meats, egg yolks, and grass-fed dairy. Vitamin K2 helps mitochondria by increasing their capacity to create energy.
So, what will cause mitochondria to malfunction?
Mitochondria can become damaged and dysfunctional when:
- Necessary nutrients are not available from the gut
- The energy created by mitochondria is less than the free radicals they produce
- And mitochondria are unable to repair themselves or increase their numbers in their host cell
Also, specific environmental elements and medications can be toxic to mitochondria. These include:
- Xenoestrogens (estrogen imitators) in the environment
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Statins (anti-cholesterol drugs)
- Glyphosate (Roundup)
- Heavy metals like lead, mercury, and aluminum
- Other irritants to the gut
My Protocol to Support Mitochondria & Gum Health
My “SciFi” story is based on medical science. I wanted to integrate this new information into a protocol to assist my patients who have periodontal disease. Supporting healthy mitochondria must be considered with periodontal treatment.
Current research suggests that supporting the mitochondria’s ability to maintain a healthy balance in the cell might be lifesaving.
To that end, clinical treatment of active periodontal disease along with supplements, which support healthy mitochondria, could be an ideal protocol to treat periodontal disease.
Once I diagnose active periodontal disease in a patient, I may need to start with some medications to get the acute infection and inflammation under control ASAP.
Importantly, my hygienist and I must teach the patient efficient oral hygiene techniques for his or her specific mouth status.
In addition, I may need to remove local irritants from under the gum tissues. When advanced periodontal disease has created jawbone damage, I use the LANAP (Laser-Assisted New Attachment Procedure) Protocol to assist the body in regenerating new bone around damaged teeth.
To ultimately treat periodontal disease completely, I encourage my patients to eat nutrient-dense foods and remove the foods that damage the gut. There are several eating lifestyles that I discuss on my blog.
To enhance my patient’s healing, I recommend three supplements to support healthy mitochondria – a spore-based probiotic, a vitamin K2 supplement and a mixture of prebiotic fibers to feed the healthy gut microbiome.
The Bottom Line
Without healthy mitochondria, healthy gums are likely an impossibility. However, these close connections can be repaired with proper attention to gut and oral health, particularly via the diet.
Want to know the exact supplements Dr. Al recommends his patients use? Dr. Alvin Danenberg is available by online consultation to provide his telehealth patients the best nutritional periodontology available.
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- Friedman, J. R., & Nunnari, J. (2014). Mitochondrial form and function. Nature, 505(7483), 335-343. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4075653/
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- Li, X., Wang, X., Zheng, M., & Luan, Q. X. (2016). Mitochondrial reactive oxygen species mediate the lipopolysaccharide-induced pro-inflammatory response in human gingival fibroblasts. Experimental cell research, 347(1), 212-221. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27515000
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