female in pain

Inflammation is a natural part of the immune system’s response to an injury or threat. Inflammatory cells serve an important purpose when it comes to the healing process and even work to remove toxins and other invasive agents from the body. However, when inflammatory cells don’t function as they should, inflammation in the body can have far-reaching detrimental effects.

What Causes Chronic Inflammation?

To determine what causes inflammation in the body, it’s important to look at the type of inflammation experienced and the circumstances surrounding it. Acute inflammation is site-based and situational, usually occurring as a result of an injury, bacteria, or toxin that has posed a threat. Chronic inflammation occurs when inflammatory cells attack part of the body when there is no true danger present, creating an environment of a constant inflammatory response.

Chronic inflammation can develop for many different reasons, including autoimmune disorders, exposure to toxins over a long period of time, autoinflammatory diseases, and acute inflammation if a full recovery was never achieved from the original inflammatory trigger. Lifestyle choices, particularly diet and alcohol consumption, can have a significant impact as well on the level of inflammation present in the body.

How to Know if I Have Chronic Inflammation

It’s important to not only know what inflammation is but to be able to recognize the signs and what causes inflammation in the first place—especially when it comes to chronic inflammation. The signs, duration, and cause of the inflammation can help you determine if you have chronic or acute inflammation. If you have chronic inflammation, recognizing the problem will allow you to take the appropriate steps to treat it and get your body working as efficiently as possible.

Five Classic Signs of Inflammation

These common signs of inflammation can be indicators of acute inflammation:

  • Swelling
  • Heat
  • Redness
  • Loss of Function
  • Pain

Signs of Chronic Inflammation         

Chronic inflammation is not as site-specific or situational as acute inflammation, meaning it has different signs indicating there is a problem. Signs of chronic inflammation include:

  • Joint Pain
  • Mouth Sores
  • Skin Rash
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Chest Pain
  • Abdominal Pain

It is important to note, however, that inflammation can also be silent—those with chronic inflammation may not note any obvious signs but could potentially develop certain illnesses over time. It can cause pain in certain cases, and in others, the level of discomfort may more easily be attributed to the disease caused by the inflammation. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and cancer can all be the results of a battle with chronic inflammation.

Is Inflammation Constant, or Does it Come and Go?

Inflammation is not always consistent—it can come and go. By nature, acute inflammation is typically constant only so long as the injury or wound is present and the inflammation is needed to allow the tissue to heal or to remove the threat from the body. Although it would stand to reason that chronic inflammation would be constant over time, that is not necessarily the case for every situation. A good example of this is rheumatoid arthritis; joint tissue is attacked by inflammatory cells, which causes inflammation on and off that then leads to pain and severe damage to joints.

Gum Disease and Chronic Inflammation

The mouth is the gateway to many systems of the body. A thorough oral examination can help identify indications of disease that may be present in other areas, and diseases in the mouth can also be the cause of ailments in other areas of the body that can affect overall health. Gum disease and inflammation are perfect examples of the link between inflammation and oral health. A well-trained dentist will know the signs to look for, indicating the presence of gum disease; early detection and treatment could prevent the detrimental effects of inflammation on the rest of the body.

Can Gum Disease Cause Inflammation in the Body?

Periodontitis causes inflammation of the gums. Gum disease is primarily caused by bacteria from dental plaque, which triggers the immune system to react to the presence of bacteria and infection with an inflammatory response. Inflammation of the gums at the earliest stage of periodontal disease can begin the process of deterioration within the soft tissue of the gums and may eventually lead to tooth loss. However, inflammation from gum disease is not just contained to the mouth—the correlation between gum disease and chronic inflammation can have even further-reaching effects that may come as a surprise to you.

Gum Inflammation and Systemic Disease

Gum disease causes inflammation, and inflammation of gum tissue in periodontal disease can negatively affect many different systems of the body. Chronic inflammation has been linked to everything from heart disease to diabetes to Alzheimer’s disease—and in some cases, gum disease could be the starting point for the systemic disease to begin developing.

Take gum disease inflammation and heart disease, for example. Inflammation in the body is intended to protect and heal; however, when inflammation becomes chronic, it can lead to inflammation in other systems. In the case of gum disease, bacteria can enter through the gums and be propelled to other parts of the body, such as the cardiovascular system, which over time can lead to inflammation and disease in the cardiovascular system.

Another example is Alzheimer's and gum disease. Porphyromonas gingivalis is a specific type of bacteria found in gum disease which has been shown to be prevalent in patients with Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, gum disease has been connected to an increased level of beta-amyloid in the brain, which is also common in Alzheimer's patients. Reducing inflammation early on may help reduce these bacteria and chemicals, which could, in turn, reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s.

Treating Chronic Inflammation

Inflammation from gum disease can certainly lead to chronic inflammation—but the good news is that chronic inflammation is treatable. Addressing the root cause of inflammation is key, as is treating the symptoms and making significant lifestyle changes to reduce the amount of inflammation in the body. Reducing inflammation will allow the systems of the body to work properly without the interference of inflammation impeding their processes.

Over-the-Counter Options

NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are a viable option for reducing inflammation. While they may relieve pain and reduce inflammation for a while, it’s important to be careful using NSAIDs for long periods of time due to the negative effects they can have on certain systems of the body.

Professional Treatments

Your doctor can give steroid treatments to reduce inflammation if it is deemed to be an appropriate treatment for your unique situation. Corticosteroids suppress the immune system, therefore reducing the inflammatory response throughout the body. While this can prevent damage to healthy tissue due to inflammation, corticosteroids can also have detrimental effects in the long run such as osteoporosis, vision problems, and high blood pressure.

Home Remedies and Natural Alternatives

Certain supplements such as fish oil, hyssop, ginger, and turmeric have been linked to reduced inflammation throughout the body. Consult your doctor about which supplements may be right for you.

Lifestyle changes are a great way to curb an inflammatory response and reduce overall inflammation. Weight loss, reducing consumption of alcoholic beverages, adopting healthy eating habits such as following an anti-inflammatory diet, increases in exercise and sleep, and better stress management are all highly effective when it comes to reducing inflammation and promoting a healthier lifestyle all around.

How Inflammation Impacts the Risk for Diabetes

Inflammation and diabetes are closely linked; when it comes to type 2 diabetes, inflammation is internal. When too little insulin is produced or existing insulin is not properly used, it can increase the level of sugar in the blood. An increase in blood sugar leads to further insulin resistance, creating a dangerous cycle between sugar and inflammation.

Being overweight and inactive are two major triggers for diabetes; excess fat cells produce certain chemicals that increase inflammation in the body. This, combined with sugar inflammation, leads to increased insulin production, which then becomes part of the detrimental cycle of inflammation, insulin production, and insulin resistance.

While acute inflammation is a healthy immune response that is necessary for healing, chronic inflammation can have detrimental effects on overall health and create long-term health issues. Taking care of your body, including your teeth and gums, is a great way to stay healthy and reduce chronic inflammation for years to come. Making good choices in diet and exercise has been proven to reduce your risk for disease, and a healthy diet will actually reduce the likelihood that damaging sugars and bacteria will cause oral health problems in the future. If you could use a thorough dental exam to ensure inflammation isn’t getting a foot in the door due to gum disease, check out Smile Generation’s Find a Dentist tool to connect with a caring, capable dental professional near you.   

References:

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Tsalamandris, Sotirios et al. “The Role of Inflammation in Diabetes: Current Concepts and Future Perspectives.” European cardiology vol. 14,1 (2019): 50-59. doi:10.15420/ecr.2018.33.1, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6523054/.

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Kingsland, James. "How is gum disease linked to inflammation, heart disease, cancer?" Medical News Today, Healthline Media, Oct. 23, 2020, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/how-is-gum-disease-linked-to-inflammation-heart-disease-cancer. 

Hoffman, Matthew. "Diabetes and Inflammation." WebMD, WebMD LLC, June 22, 2021, https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/inflammation-and-diabetes.