Keep Your Heart Happy by Taking Care of Your Gums
Paying attention to your dental hygiene and health – especially your gums – may pay you back with more than a gleaming, healthy smile and manageable dental bills. It may keep your heart healthy too.
Did you know that the plaque that develops on your teeth is the same plaque that causes heart attacks? The most common type of bacteria in dental plaque can escape into the bloodstream, travel through the arteries, and result in blood clots that can cause fatal heart attacks.
The Heart and Mouth Connection
The American Heart Association published a Statement in April 2012 supporting an association between gum disease and heart disease. The article noted that current scientific data do not indicate if regular brushing and flossing or treatment of gum disease will decrease the incidence, rate or severity of the narrowing of the arteries (called atherosclerosis) that can lead to heart attacks and strokes. However, many studies show an as-yet-unexplained association between gum disease and several serious health conditions, including heart disease, even after adjusting for common risk factors.
There are two different connections between heart disease and your oral health:
Studies have shown that people with moderate or advanced gum (periodontal) disease are more likely to have heart disease than those with healthy gums.
Oral health holds clues to overall health. Studies have shown that oral health can provide warning signs for other diseases or conditions, including heart disease.
“The mouth can be a good warning signpost,” said Ann Bolger, M.D., William Watt Kerr Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “People with periodontitis often have risk factors that not only put their mouth at risk, but their heart and blood vessels, too. But whether one causes the other has not actually been shown.”
Periodontitis and heart disease share risk factors such as smoking, age and diabetes, and both contribute to inflammation in the body. Although these shared risk factors may explain why diseases of the blood vessels and mouth can occur simultaneously, some evidence suggests that there may be an independent association between the two diseases.
People with periodontal (gum) disease are nearly twice as likely to suffer from heart disease, according to the American Academy of Periodontology. The following diseases have been linked to plaque:
Bacterial endocarditis – a condition in which the lining of the heart and heart valves become enlarged
COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
Overall, people who have chronic gum disease are at higher risk for a heart attack, according to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD). Gum disease (called gingivitis in its early stages and periodontal disease in the late stages) is caused by plaque buildup along and below the gum line. It has been suggested that inflammation caused by gum disease may also trigger clot formation. Clots decrease blood flow to the heart, thereby causing an elevation in blood pressure and increasing the risk of a heart attack.
Dentists can help patients who have a history of heart disease by examining them for any signs of oral pain, infection or inflammation. According to the AGD, proper diagnosis and treatment of tooth and gum infections in some of these patients have led to a decrease in blood pressure medications and improved overall health. If you currently have heart disease, make sure to tell your dentist about your condition as well as any medications you are currently taking. Remember to carefully follow your physician’s and dentist’s instructions about health care, and use any prescription medications, such as antibiotics, as directed.
Gum disease affects 80% of American adults and often the condition goes undiagnosed. Warning signs that you may have gum disease include:
Red, tender or swollen gums
Bleeding gums while brushing or flossing
Gums that seem to be pulling away from your teethChronic bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth
Teeth that are loose or separating from each other
The best way to be proactive in maintaining your oral and overall health is scheduling regular dental checkups, getting professional cleanings and regular brushing and flossing.
Sources: Heart.org (American Heart Association), MouthHealthy.org (American Dental Association, DeltaDentalIns.com
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