At Comfort Care Family Dental PC, we’ve found that most people have heard, if only vaguely, of lymph nodes and maybe even the lymphatic system, but many do not realize how greatly the human lymphatic system can impact overall health.
Understanding how the lymphatic system affects dental health and your health in general is important if you want to hang on to both. That understanding begins with knowing just what the lymphatic system is and how it functions as it does.
What is the Lymphatic System?
The human lymphatic system is a network of tissues and organs made up mostly of lymphatic vessels, which are somewhat similar to the circulatory system’s veins and capillaries. It helps the body get rid of waste, toxins, and other unwanted materials.
The lymphatic vessels transport lymph, a clear, colorless fluid. The name derives from the Latin word “lympha,” meaning “connected to water.” Lymph is rich in the white blood cells that combat infection.
The lymphatic vessels connect to lymph nodes that filter the lymph. Hundreds of lymph nodes are present in the body from the head down to around the knees and are found both deep inside and near the surface, for example, in the armpits and groin.
The spleen, thymus, adenoids, and tonsils are all components of the lymphatic system. The spleen is the largest of the lymphatic organs. It filters blood to control the number of red blood cells, regulates blood storage, and detects potentially dangerous viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms in the blood, it, along with the lymph nodes, creates white blood cells called lymphocytes to protect against the unwanted organisms by generating antibodies that destroy them and prevent infection from spreading. (This is why, although people can live without a spleen, those who lack them are more susceptible to infection.)
The thymus in in the chest just above the heart. This lymphatic organ is a storehouse of immature lymphocytes. It gets them ready to turn into T cells that fight infectious or cancerous cells.
The tonsils are big clusters of lymphatic cells located in the pharynx (the throat.) These lymphatic organs contribute greatly to the immune system’s defenses by sampling viruses and bacteria that come in through the nose and mouth. (Unfortunately, they themselves can become infected, and people for whom throat infections are common sometimes end up receiving tonsillectomies. The operation is less common today than in the 1950s but still fairly common nonetheless.)
Lymph itself comes from the body’s blood plasma. Once plasma delivers nutrients and removes debris from cells, most of it returns to the veins via minute vessels called venules. Some of it, however, becomes the lymph in the lymphatic system.
Blood circulates through the body in a continuous loop. Lymph, however, only travels in one direction: up toward the neck. There, lymphatic vessels run to the subclavian veins (there’s one on either side of the neck near the collarbone), and at that point, the lymphatic fluid reenters the cardiovascular system.
Because the lymphatic system includes no heart or comparable organ to pump lymphatic fluid through the body, it relies on movements of the entire body to work as that pump. Bending, twisting, and flexing muscles pushes and pulls the fluid through the body. This is one reason why physical activity is so important. The more sedentary you are, the less effective toxin elimination will be. So stay active!
The Lymphatic System and Overall Health
Now that you understand how the lymphatic organs and lymphatic vessels are configured and operate, it’s time to take a closer look at why. The lymphatic system plays an important role in two key aspects of overall health and wellness:
Detoxification- The lymphatic system works as a sort of waste collection and clean up network for the entire body. Lymphatic tissue collects toxins, waste products, excess elements from the blood, and other potentially harmful byproducts and transports them to designated waste elimination areas. Without proper lymphatic detoxification, those toxins and waste byproducts would accumulate in the body and eventually reach a deadly level. Thus, detoxification is critical for the health of vulnerable cells and associated tissues, and when the detox process does not work effectively, severe illness and disease can run rampant throughout the body.
Immunity- While most people think only of white blood cells and antioxidants as the key parts of the immune system, lymphatic tissue plays an equally important role in keeping us healthy. When germs, bacteria, viruses, or fungal infections threaten to make us sick, the lymphatic system helps remove these pathogens.This is another layer to the wonder of how the lymphatic system impacts dental health and overall health. For dental health, this means it helps remove infections and keeps teeth and gums healthy and strong. This is how dental health and lymphatic tissue are intertwined and most people are never even aware of this interplay.
Transport– Because the lymph system contains no heart or other organs to pump the lymphatic fluids throughout the body, it relies on the basic movements of the entire body to work as that pump. The milking action of the body, bending and twisting, and flexing of muscles pushes and pulls the lymphatic fluids through the body. This is why physical activity is so important- the more sedentary you are the less effective the toxin elimination will be. With dental health and lymphatic tissue, it is important to make sure you stay active and allow the lymphatic tissues to drain away any infection or toxins and also helps deliver the nutrients your teeth and gums need to stay healthy.
The Lymphatic System and Dental Health
From the above, it’s easy to extrapolate how the lymphatic system impacts dental health in particular. The tissues in the teeth and gums are, after all, parts of the body and share in all its needs and vulnerabilities. The blood that flows there needs to be cleaned to eliminate toxins, produce a healthy resistance to infection, and keep the teeth and gums free of disease and pain.
Drainage Considerations of the Lymphatic System
So we know that the lymphatic tissue helps with detoxing of the body and helps boost the immune system. But what happens when the system is damaged somehow? Damage to lymphatic vessels,nodes, and tissues, whether it is the result of surgery or from trauma will have a negative effect on the functioning of the system. Post-surgical swelling is common when lymphatic tissues are involved and during recovery, the drainage is impaired. It is important to watch closely for infections and other signs of toxicity during this time. Dysfunction or injury to the lymphatic system that is severe and not properly monitored or that does not heal as it should will result in long-term consequences including lymphatic swelling or lymphedema. Why does this matter in regards to dental health? Many dental procedures, even simple cleanings, expose teeth and gums and carry a small chance for infections; surgical procedure and more involved treatments have a higher risk. This, combined with a lymphatic system that is not operating as it should mean that side effects could potentially be severe. In addition, long-term dental trauma and health will be determined by how the lymphatic system impacts dental health:
“When a tooth gets infected or has a mercury filling, its contents drain via the lymphatic system (drainage system of the body) to the entire body, which can affect any area. A lot of depression problems stem from toxins from root canal teeth, which can directly affect the thyroid. When the thyroid becomes dysfunctional multiple symptoms can occur: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, muscle spasms, weak ligaments, constipation, thinning of the hair, vertigo, tinnitus, balance problems, insomnia, heart palpitations, acne, tooth decay, weak immune system (chronic infections), brittle nails, headaches, digestion problems, dry skin, mental fog, poor memory to name a few” (ICNR).
It is easy to see how dental health is impacted by toxins in the body and how the lymphatic system affects it all. When you understand how the lymphatic system impacts dental health, it is easy to see why this forgotten system of the body is so essential and why anyone who wants to maintain their oral health needs to focus on the lymphatic system. For optimum dental health and lymphatic tissue performance, healthy lifestyle choices are a must!
Damage to the Lymphatic System
Given that the human lymphatic system plays an important role in detoxing the body and boosting the immune system, what happens when the system is compromised?
Damage to lymphatic vessels, nodes, and tissues can arise from several sources. It can result from trauma or as a complication to surgery. Additionally, though it plays a key role in fighting disease, the lymphatic system is itself susceptible to a number of diseases.
One of two most common of all diseases of the lymphatic system is lymphadenopathy. This is swelling due to lymph node blockage, or, to use the medical term, lymphedema.
When bacteria are detected in the lymph fluid, the lymph nodes make more white blood cells to fight infection. This process can go awry and cause the nodes to swell, commonly in the groin, underarms, or neck.
Lymphadenopathy generally results from infections, inflammation, and cancer infections that produce blockage. The infections likely to produce blockage include strep throat, viral infections like HIV infections and mononucleosis, and locally infected skin wounds. The enlargement of the lymph nodes can be localized or generalized, and, depending on the location (surface or deep), readily discernible or detectable only by an MRI or CT scan.
Autoimmune and inflammatory conditions can also be responsible for enlargement of lymph nodes. This can, for example, be an effect of lupus.
The other of the two most common diseases is some form of cancer that involves the lymphatic system. Cancer of the lymph nodes is called lymphoma. It’s a condition in which the lymphocytes grow and multiply uncontrollably.
There are two main classifications of lymphoma, Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin, with the latter being somewhat more prevalent. NHL (non-Hodgkin lymphoma) further breaks down into a number of subtypes including diffuse large B-cell, follicular, and Burkitt’s.
Cancer treatment can itself produce problems with the lymphatic system. When surgery or radiation removes a tumor, the lymphatic fluid flows back to the heart, and swelling or lymphedema can result. This is seen fairly often in women who have had a breast removed due to breast cancer because part of the procedure involves the removal of lymph nodes in the armpit.
The more lymph nodes that are removed, the likelier swelling and pain become. Fortunately, thanks to surgical advances, surgeons generally have to remove fewer lymph nodes than was the case formerly.
Castleman disease is a group of diseases that aren’t technically lymphoma but are similar and often treated with chemotherapy. These inflammatory diseases can affect one lymph node or multiple lymph nodes and cause lymph node enlargement and multiple organ dysfunctions.
In lymphangiomatosis, multiple lesions of cysts form from lymphatic vessels. Scientists believe the disease stems from a genetic disorder.
People get tonsil stones when small bits of debris catch on the tonsils and white blood cells attack the foreign matter and leave behind a biofilm that breathes oxygen. Tonsil stones have crevices where bacteria can accumulate and produce problems. Sometimes tonsil stones fall away on their own to be harmlessly swallowed, but sometimes it’s necessary for a professional to remove them.
Diagnosis of Diseases of the Lymphatic System
Diagnosis of a disorder of the lymphatic system generally begins when doctors detect enlarged lymph nodes either by external observation or imaging.
Just because some enlargement is detected, though, that doesn’t automatically indicate cause for concern. The enlargement may just mean the lymphatic system is fighting off an infection the way it’s supposed to. But if the enlargement persists when the infection is over, further evaluation is in order.
The common symptoms of a disease of the lymphatic system are weight loss, night sweats, fever, and swelling of the arms or groin.
To make a proper diagnosis, a biopsy may be necessary. If the lymph node to be biopsied is deep inside the body, in the pelvis or abdomen, for example, an interventional radiologist can help properly position the needle via image guidance.
Sometimes it’s necessary for a surgeon to perform the biopsy in an operating room. One advantage of this is that more tissue can be obtained.
Treatment of Diseases of the Lymphatic System
Immunologists generally take the lead in treating diseases of the lymphatic system, but dermatologists, oncologists, and physiatrists may also participate, as may lymphedema therapists who drain the lymphatic system manually.
The treatment depends on the underlying cause. Infections are treated with antibiotics or antivirals, while lymphedema can be treated with physical therapy, compression, and elevation. Cancers are treated with surgery, radiotherapy, and/or chemotherapy.
Effects of Disorders of the Lymphatic System
Whatever the cause, damage to the lymphatic system will have a negative effect on its functioning. For example, post-surgical swelling is common when lymphatic tissues are involved, and during recovery, drainage is impaired. Thus it’s important to watch closely for infections and other signs of toxicity during this time. Dysfunction or injury to the lymphatic system that is severe and not properly monitored or does not heal as it should can result in long-term problems including lymphedema.
Damage to the Lymphatic System and Dental Health
As you can imagine, all that’s bad, but why does damage to the lymphatic system matter specifically in regard to dental health? It’s because many dental procedures, even simple cleanings, expose teeth and gums and carry a small chance for infections; surgical procedures and more involved treatments have a higher risk. Combined with a lymphatic system that’s not operating as it should, this means side effects could be severe. Additionally, the functioning (or malfunctioning) of the lymphatic system will have a considerable influence on long-term oral health (and therefore potentially health in general):
“When a tooth gets infected or has a mercury filling, its contents drain via the lymphatic system (drainage system of the body) to the entire body, which can affect any area. A lot of depression problems stem from toxins from root canal teeth, which can directly affect the thyroid. When the thyroid becomes dysfunctional, multiple symptoms can occur: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, muscle spasms, weak ligaments, constipation, thinning of the hair, vertigo, tinnitus, balance problems, insomnia, heart palpitations, acne, tooth decay, weak immune system (chronic infections), brittle nails, headaches, digestion problems, dry skin, mental fog, poor memory to name a few” (ICNR).
As we’ve seen, your oral health is strongly related to your lymphatic system and general health. One good aspect of this is that during your appointments, in addition to caring for your teeth and gums, your dentist can spot signs in your mouth that indicate health problems elsewhere. Here at Comfort Care Family Dental PC, these are some of the conditions we sometimes detect and/or address in our patients:
Those who are fighting either type of diabetes tend to struggle much more with oral health and gum disease. This is largely due to their overall lowered ability to fight infection. In addition, gum disease and severe dental problems can make blood sugar levels spike.
- Oral Cancer
The first indication of oral cancer usually starts as a small sore or tender spot that will not heal. It can be on the lips, gums, roof of the mouth, tongue, throat, cheek lining, or any other areas within the mouth. Your dentists will see these before you may even notice.
When you are struggling with high levels of stress in your life, teeth grinding is common. Grinding and clenching of the teeth puts them under can chip, crack and wear down teeth. When left for too long it can cause severe and irreversible damage to the teeth.
- Pregnancy/Birth Problems
Studies show dental issues during pregnancy cause premature birth, low birth weight, and other issues during the pregnancy. This is one instance where it is critical to understand how the lymphatic system impacts dental health and how that affects overall health.
- Heart Disease
Since gum disease has been shown to be closely tied to an increase in heart disease, it is even more important to take care of your oral health and aside from maintaining good oral hygiene, the best way to do this is my taking care of the lymphatic system.
There are many types of cancer but most will cause certain reactions that can be seen in other areas of the body, most associated with the immune system. Swollen and sore lymph nodes in the neck that do not improve is a common warning sign of problems.
Swollen gums, bleeding gums, mouth sores, and ulceration in the mouth are all early indicators that point to this life-threatening condition. These warning signs are easily detected by the dentist and a healthy lymphatic system can help keep it at bay.
A rapid or severe decrease in bone density is common for many people but when this occurs to the jaw bones that hold the teeth, it can lead to major dental issues. This can be spotted on a dental X-ray and can indicate possible bone loss elsewhere in the body.
- Hodgkin’s Disease
It is a disease many have heard of but few understand. This sometimes-fatal disease attacks the lymphatic system itself, and commonly presents symptoms such as swollen lymph nodes, infections, and fluid retention can be detected in the mouth.
- Other Health Conditions
Other conditions can also be affected by a poorly functioning lymphatic system and can be caught early by seeing warning signs in the mouth. These include things like anaemia, thrush, fungal infections, vitamin deficiency, and even autoimmune conditions.
Get The Oral Health Help You Need
Many people recognize the term lymphatic system and may know a little about the lymph nodes, but most have little understanding of how the system works. They don’t understand the impact it can have on their overall health and well-being. But comprehending how the human lymphatic system impacts dental health and your body in general is important if you want to stay healthy and fit. The lymphatic system is one of the important systems of the body and plays an important part in keeping it working at optimum efficiency.
To learn more, contact our team of dental experts here at Comfort Care Family Dental and we can help you reserved not only your dental health but we can help you preserve your overall health as well. Call today to get started!
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