By Alvin Danenberg, DDS, contributing writer

January 10, 2018 -- Here is an account that unfolds like the best science fiction tale ever written. It's the relationship between bacteria and mitochondria and eventually gum disease. This relationship forms a critical cycle.

Alvin Danenberg, DDS
Alvin Danenberg, DDS.

As human life evolved from single-celled organisms, each cell in our bodies came to include a self-contained energy-production machine called mitochondria that started out as ancient bacterial organisms.

Every cell in our body, with the exception of red blood cells, includes mitochondria to create the energy to keep it alive. The mitochondria are embedded within the cytoplasm of our 10 trillion human cells. Some individual cells have only a few mitochondria; our most active cells (such as 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.

Gum disease and mitochondria

At this point, you might be asking me how this affects your patients and your practice. When everything is working correctly, the mitochondria are healthy and functioning; the problems develop when our mitochondria are compromised. 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.”

If mitochondria are not firing on all cylinders, disease will occur. Published research has shown that gum disease is one result of dysfunction in the mitochondria within gum tissue cells, according to a 2016 study in Experimental Cell Research (September 2016, Vol. 347:1, pp. 212-221).

So, what will cause mitochondria to malfunction? Mitochondria can become damaged and dysfunctional when necessary nutrients are not available from the gut, when the energy created by mitochondria is less than the free radicals they produce, and when 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, statins (anticholesterol drugs), glyphosate (Roundup), and heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and aluminum.

In my experience, many patients have regular exposure to these substances. As always, communication with your patient and your patient's other healthcare providers is crucial.

My protocol

We're dentists because we want to help our patients. I'm a periodontist so I can help my patients who have gum disease. Hence, supporting healthy mitochondria must be considered with gum treatment. To that end, clinical treatment of active gum disease along with specific nutrients, which support healthy mitochondria, could be an ideal protocol to treat periodontal disease.

I first treat active gum disease by removing local irritants from under the gum tissues and by teaching effective oral hygiene. For advanced cases of periodontitis, I use a laser procedure that assists damaged alveolar bone, periodontal ligament, and cementum to regenerate. In addition, I encourage my patients to eat nutrient-dense foods and remove the foods that damage the gut.

While some natural foods may provide specific nutrients to assist mitochondrial health, a patient may not be able to consume enough of these nutrients in their diet. So, specific supplements may be the better choice:

  • A spore-based probiotic to help repopulate the gut with healthy and diverse bacteria, which create metabolites that enhance the health of mitochondria
  • A vitamin K2 MK7 supplement to improve the energy capacity of mitochondria
  • A gluten-free prebiotic to feed the healthy bacteria in the gut so that they can provide necessary metabolites

I recommend that my patients take these for at least 60 days then come back to see me to determine the health of their gum tissues. It may or may not be necessary to continue to take these supplements in the future. Some people may want to take them on a regular basis for overall health and quality of life.

A version of this column first ran on Dr. Danenberg's blog. appreciates the opportunity to reprint it. His book Crazy-Good Living from Elektra Press is available here.

Alvin Danenberg, DDS, practices at the Bluffton Center for Dentistry in Bluffton, SC. He is also on the faculty of the College of Integrative Medicine and created its integrative periodontal teaching module. He also spent two years as chief of periodontics at Charleston Air Force Base earlier in his career. His website is

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

Copyright © 2018

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