You could believe that the mouth and the heart have little in common. However, there is growing evidence that they are connected.
Researchers believe that bacteria found in gum disease can spread throughout the body, causing inflammation in the arteries of the heart and infection in the heart valves. This has the potential to effect a large number of individuals.
According to a landmark study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of American adults aged 30 and up, and 70% of those aged 65 and above, have gum disease in some form.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these potential dangers.
Inflammation of the blood vessels in the heart
Gum disease has been linked to inflammation, which can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and abrupt vascular events, according to research. The specific nature of the cause-and-effect relationship is currently unknown.
“Inflammation can be caused by a variety of factors and sources. That’s why it’s difficult to prove it’s just one thing,” explains Marietta Ambrose, MD, MPH, FACC, Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Inflammation induced by gum disease can exacerbate heart disease and blood vessel disease in persons who already have them.
When high cholesterol is present, the risk increases much more. Oral bacteria have been discovered in the fatty deposits of persons suffering from atherosclerosis, a disease in which plaque builds up in the arteries. If left untreated, these deposits can restrict or break away, clogging arteries and triggering a heart attack or stroke.
Infection in the Valves of the Heart
Gum disease puts people with heart valve disease at a higher risk, according to Dr. Ambrose.
“When you have gum disease, the bacteria in your mouth can travel into your bloodstream, invade the heart, and directly infect the fragile heart valves,” she explains.
“This is especially concerning in our patients who have heart valves that are artificial.”
Infections in the bloodstream, particularly those affecting the heart valves, require rapid medical intervention.
Reducing Your Risk
The good news is that gingivitis, or mild gum disease, can be easily prevented and treated.
Regular dental cleanings are a vital aspect of long-term preventative treatment, whether you have heart disease or not. Brushing and flossing at least twice a day is part of a proper oral hygiene practice, as is seeing a dentist at least once every six months for an evaluation and cleaning.
“Everyone should get their teeth checked by their dentist in the same way that the rest of their body is checked,” Dr. Ambrose advises. Much like high blood pressure, you don’t realize you have a problem until it’s too late. Even if you brush and floss properly, it’s still a good idea to have your oral health checked by a dentist because you might require additional treatments.”
Do a quick self-exam in front of a mirror if you haven’t been to the dentist in a while. While many of the symptoms don’t appear until the latter stages, the American Academy of Periodontology says there are a few warning indicators to look for:
- Gums that are red, swollen, or sensitive
- Brushing, flossing, or eating hard foods causes bleeding.
- Gums that are receding
- Teeth that are loose or separating
- Bad breath that doesn’t go away
Any of these signs and symptoms indicate that you should see a dentist.
According to Dr. Ambrose, once gum disease is adequately controlled, the increased risk to your heart should decrease and potentially return to normal.
“We have to manage it individually if there have already been effects from gum disease,” Dr. Ambrose says. “If someone has an infection that has spread to a heart valve, for example, we must treat it separately. If the heart valve is severely damaged, doctors may consider replacing or repairing it. We always refer our patients to a dentist in these situations.”
Seek peace of mind and contact Pure Prosthodontics for a complete periodontal evaluation.