By Michael G. Rehme, DDS, NMD
Lyme disease is caused by exposure to Borrelia burgdorferi, an ancient spirochete bacterium dating back millions of years. It’s an extremely adaptable microbe that can infect most anything with blood. Today, it commonly infects mammals, birds, and even some reptiles.
Lyme disease is one of the fastest growing and most difficult diseases in the world to treat. It can mimic so many other diseases (MS, fibromyalgia, lupus, and many more), thus making a definitive diagnosis and treatment plan more challenging – and sometimes confusing – for patients to follow.
One of the most important things that must be considered when studying Lyme is the immune system.
A strong, healthy immune system keeps the body functioning properly. Colds, flus, allergies, and other debilitating illnesses rarely have a chance to attack or compromise the body’s healthy constitution. Weakened immune systems, however, will allow pathogens to flourish. Mild symptoms can soon exacerbate into chronic pain, with various debilitating conditions that can affect both the mind and body.
Stress, unhealthy diet, dehydration, lack of exercise, chemical toxins, molds, and mycotoxins can all be contributing factors that allow the initial exposure to B. burgdorferi to trigger this disease and overwhelm the body.
Usually, antibiotics are given as the first line of defense to reduce or eliminate the disease, but considering the location of some deep osseous (bony) defects, it can be a bit more difficult for the antibiotics to reach all the target sites in the body. This can keep antibiotic therapy from being as effective as one would hope for.
As a biological dentist, my contribution to solving this mystery starts with examining the oral cavity. There’s more going on in the mouth than we often pay attention to. Yet as Reinhold Voll taught many decades ago, up to 90% of all body ailments may be linked to the mouth!
B. burgdorferi is a corkscrew-shaped spirochete that is free living and anaerobic, meaning it thrives without oxygen. When the mouth presents itself with periodontal (gum) disease and jawbone necrosis, it’s an opportunistic environment that invites this bacterium to flourish. Any time the oral pH is less than 6.5 – when conditions are acidic – phase contrast microscopy usually shows spirochetes in the gums. In the jawbone, spirochetes are found in diseased areas, holes that are commonly called “dental cavitations.”
Cavitations form when the lack of proper blood supply creates an area composed of dead, decaying bone tissue and can be either an acute or chronic condition. Cavitations are found in extraction sites that have not healed properly, as well as around infected root canals and failed dental implants. They are the ultimate breeding ground for toxins that can lead to unexpected health issues.
Dental cavitations can harbor many different types of microorganisms that create unfavorable conditions in the bone. If left untreated, these defects can fester over time and produce toxic microorganisms that can circulate to other parts of the body via the nerves, lymph, and blood. These systemic complications can affect other cells and organs in the body, too, resulting in inflammation, disease, and pain.
Importantly, not all cavitations exhibit obvious symptoms such as pain, redness, fever, or pus. Because of this, these defects can easily go undetected for many years. Often, they’re never discovered at all, as they’re not readily visible on conventional dental x-rays.
Fortunately, these hidden jawbone infections can now be detected with 3D imaging and by using biopsy reports to confirm the presence of spirochetes in these lesions. Debridement of inflamed and necrotic lesions – that is, clearing out the diseased tissue – and the extraction of infected teeth offer promising hope to those with persistent Lyme who are searching for the missing link in the treatment of their illness.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease Associated with the Oral Cavity
- Dry mouth
- Tooth sensitivity
- Bell’s palsy
- Burning mouth syndrome
- Bad breath
- Unexplained facial pain
- TMJ-like symptoms
- Clenching and grinding
- Geographic tongue
After 15 years of performing these surgical procedures, it has become more and more apparent to me that removing these osseous defects and healing the periodontal issues may be an important step in the healing phase of Lyme disease. Postoperative evaluations reveal encouraging results that are consistent with the elimination of many Lyme symptoms. More research and clinical assessments will continue as the future looks brighter for our patients.
But let’s not forget, this takes a group effort that includes a multi-disciplinary approach, requiring a comprehensive treatment protocol for our patients. While biologic dentists can assist in removing B. burgdorferi from the mouth, we need physicians, psychologists, osteopaths, chiropractors, naturopaths, nutritionists, and nurses who can focus their expertise on strengthening the immune system with pharmaceuticals, supplements, and lifestyle changes that will support physical and mental health and help to significantly reduce if not eliminate Lyme disease from the rest of the body once and for all.
- Lyme disease: Considerations for dentistry. J Orofacial Pain. 1996; 10(1):74-86.
- Mayo Clinic. Lyme disease – symptoms and causes. Accessed August 2, 2021 at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lyme-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20374651.
Image by NIH