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The Lowdown on Inflammation

The Lowdown on Inflammation

There’s a lot of talk about inflammation from health experts these days. Inflammation is being considered as a key culprit in a wide spectrum of diseases: from cancer to cardiovascular disease. There is ongoing science attempting to pin down the mechanism and degree of responsibility that inflammation has in disease processes, but in the mean time– what do we know about inflammation, anyway?

Sometimes buzzwords, like inflammation, become so overused that they lose their meaning. Let’s examine inflammation and what it means for our health.

Inflammation has two sides to it

The buzz about inflammation and all of the potential health problems it could invite is important– but it can also overshadow the fact that inflammation has a very real and valuable role.

There are two kinds of inflammation: chronic, and acute. When you hear about inflammation causing rheumatoid arthritis, or being linked to stroke– that’s chronic inflammation. This is the inflammation we all want to avoid. It’s gentler cousin, acute inflammation, is actually a key player in a body’s healthy immune system.

The work of acute inflammation

Acute inflammation is the body’s normal and healthy response to injury, and it is the first step in our bodies’ healing process. Almost immediately after an injury, your body uses the inflammatory process to clean the site of injury, slow bleeding, and kill any potentially dangerous invaders like bacteria.

There are 4 components to acute inflammation.

  • Redness: caused by vasodilation and increased blood flow to the inflicted site
  • Heat: caused by increased blood flow, as well as increased cellular activity
  • Swelling: with vasodilation, fluid leaks out of our capillaries and into the space between our cells and vessels. This is the swelling you see when you sprain your ankle.
  • Pain: while it is inconvenient, without the neural signals that we’re uncomfortable we could hurt ourselves worse!

Together, these 4 components make sure that the site of injury is ready to start the next step of the healing process.

Chronic inflammation is the real problem

Unlike acute inflammation, chronic inflammation doesn’t serve a purpose. Your body is reacting to a series of small-scale irritations by creating inflammatory mediators– prostaglandins– who circulate and try to solve a problem which has no discrete end point.

One good example is smoking. Smoke and other toxic materials severely irritate the oral cavity and respiratory lining, and trigger the body’s immune system to try to repair the damage. Daily smoking increases the amount of inflammatory processes in the body. Studies have shown that smoking is correlated with a higher incidence of systemic inflammation (in addition to being terrible for your dental health!)

Chronic inflammation is characterized by constant breaking down and rebuilding of the tissues the body sees as injured. While this might not seem like a big deal, abnormal cell rebuilding is not a healthy process for our bodies and has been linked with disease processes secondary to the effects of inflammation.

Why do we care so much about inflammation?

The connection between inflammation and gum disease is a widely studied one. As we’ve touched on in other blog posts, gum disease is one of the most prevalent diseases worldwide. And it’s entirely avoidable– which, by extension, indicates that the risk factors for other systemic disease associated with oral inflammation could be decreased with good gum health.

So brush and floss daily; it’s not only critical for your smile, but for your overall health. Call your Milwaukie dentist, Sue Walker,  for your next appointment today!

Photo Credit: Kris Krug via Compfight cc

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