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  • Lacy Walker

Nitric Oxide Affects Your Oral Health & Physical Health


Nitric oxide (NO) is a colorless, odorless gas and a vital signaling molecule in the body. It is crucial in various physiological processes, including cardiovascular, neurological, and immune functions. NO is synthesized by endothelial cells, which line the blood vessels, as well as by certain nerve cells and immune cells.

Regarding dental health, nitric oxide is essential for maintaining proper blood flow and vascular function in the oral tissues. It helps regulate blood pressure, prevent clotting, and reduce inflammation. A healthy blood supply to the gums and other oral tissues is crucial for supporting the teeth and preventing gum disease. Insufficient blood flow can lead to tissue damage and impaired healing, further exacerbating dental problems.


Moreover, nitric oxide exhibits antibacterial properties. It can help control the growth of bacteria in the mouth, which is beneficial for preventing dental caries (cavities) and gum disease (gingivitis and periodontal disease). Nitric oxide’s antimicrobial effects contribute to maintaining a balanced oral microbiome, which is essential for oral health.


In terms of overall health, nitric oxide has numerous functions:


  1. Cardiovascular health: NO helps relax and dilate blood vessels; this will improve blood flow and reduce blood pressure. This property is vital for maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system and preventing conditions like hypertension and atherosclerosis.

  2. Neurotransmission: NO formed in the hippocampus has been suggested to have a role in the learning and memory processes. (1) In the brain, nitric oxide acts as a neurotransmitter, participating in communication between nerve cells. It plays a role in memory, learning, and cognitive function.

  3. Immune system regulation: Nitric oxide is involved with the body’s immune system response and helps the body defend against infections. It can act as a potent antimicrobial agent, helping to kill invading pathogens. Nitric oxide is important as a toxic defense molecule against infectious organisms, regulating the growth, activity, and the death of many immune and inflammatory cell types. (2)

  4. Anti-inflammatory effects: Inflammation in the oral cavity, manifested by the clinical and histopathological picture, is also associated with increased inflammatory markers. One of the state markers of ongoing inflammation is nitric oxide. (3, 4) NO helps regulate inflammation in the body. It can reduce excessive inflammation, which is linked to various chronic diseases.

  5. Exercise performance: Nitric oxide has been associated with improved exercise performance and endurance, as it enhances blood flow to muscles and reduces oxygen demand during physical activity. According to an article on sports physiology, there is concrete evidence that physical activity enhances NO production, and exercise should be recommended to increase the level of nitric oxide for athletes and patients with cardiovascular disorders. (5)

  6. Sleep: Sleep deprivation can affect your performance, mood, and immune function. Nitric oxide plays a important role in regulating sleep and the sleep-wake cycle. Nitric oxide acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain, facilitating communication between nerve cells. It regulates various neurotransmitters, including serotonin and glutamate, which are essential for maintaining normal sleep patterns. (6) NO has been found to modulate the activity of brain regions responsible for sleep, such as the hypothalamus and the brainstem.

Studies have shown that disruptions in nitric oxide levels can lead to sleep disturbances and insomnia. Moreover, NO is thought to contribute to regulating circadian rhythms, our internal biological clock, that governs our sleep-wake cycle. Maintaining proper nitric oxide levels is crucial for promoting healthy and restful sleep, and imbalances in NO levels may have implications for sleep disorders and overall sleep quality.


7.   Oral microbiome: Nitric oxide (NO) has a significant impact on the oral microbiome, influencing the delicate balance of microorganisms that inhabit the mouth. The antimicrobial properties of NO make it a potent defender against harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi, helping to maintain oral health by reducing the presence of pathogenic species. By targeting and inhibiting the growth of these harmful microorganisms, nitric oxide contributes to the prevention of dental caries, gum disease, and other oral infections. Nitric oxide also plays a role in regulating saliva production and pH levels in the mouth.

In summary, nitric oxide is a versatile and essential molecule for dental and overall health. Its ability to support proper blood flow, regulate inflammation, and exhibit antimicrobial properties makes it crucial for maintaining healthy gums, preventing dental issues, and supporting various physiological functions.


Article by: Lacy Walker, RDH, BS, CDA, MAADH, FAAOSH


References

1.     Paul, V., & Ekambaram, P. (2011). Involvement of nitric oxide in learning & memory processes. The Indian Journal of Medical Research, 133(5), 471-478. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3121276/

2.     Tripathi P. (2007). Nitric oxide and immune response. Indian journal of biochemistry & biophysics, 44(5), 310–319

3.     Wyszyńska, M., Rosak, P., Czelakowska, A., Białożyt-Bujak, E., Kasperski, J., Łopaciński, M., Khatib, N. A., & Skucha-Nowak, M. (2022). Pilot Study of Use of Nitric Oxide in Monitoring Multiple Dental Foci in Oral Cavity—A Case Report. Healthcare, 10(2). https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare10020195

4.     Parwani, S. R., & Parwani, R. N. (2015). Nitric oxide and inflammatory periodontal disease. General dentistry, 63(2), 34–40.

5.     Oral O. (2021). Nitric oxide and its role in exercise physiology. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness, 61(9), 1208–1211. https://doi.org/10.23736/S0022-4707.21.11640-8

6.     Liu, W., Li, Q., Ye, B., Cao, H., Shen, F., Xu, Z., Du, W., Guo, F., Liu, J., Li, T., Zhang, B., & Liu, Z. (2020). Repeated Nitrous Oxide Exposure Exerts Antidepressant-Like Effects Through Neuronal Nitric Oxide Synthase Activation in the Medial Prefrontal Cortex. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 11, 532434. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00837


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