Many have likely heard from their dentist or others how oral health is essential for one's overall health, with it being impossible for one to be totally isolated from the other. As of recent calculations, over 80 percent of Americans live with periodontal disease, with many usually never receiving a formal diagnosis.
This could be because a patient's teeth might feel fine, thus he or she avoids the dentist, and doctor's visits are rarely focused on a patient's oral health. However, patients may be surprised to learn there could be a couple of links between heart disease and oral health.
For instance, recent studies indicate that if someone has mild or advanced gum disease, he or she has a greater chance of developing heart disease compared to someone who has healthy gums. As well, oral health can provide warning signs for doctors on a variety of conditions and diseases, such as those involving the heart.
How are They Related?
Heart disease and oral health are connected due to bacteria as well as other germs spreading from the mouth to different parts of the body through the bloodstream. If they spread to the heart, these bacteria could attach to any area with damage, thereby causing inflammation.
This could lead to illnesses like endocarditis, which is an infection of the heart's inner lining. As well, other conditions like stroke or clogged arteries (atherosclerosis) have been linked with inflammation that is caused by bacteria of the mouth.
Which Patients are at Risk?
Individuals with long-term gum conditions-gingivitis, advanced periodontal disease-are the most prone to heart disease brought on by oral health, especially if it continues to be unmanaged or undiagnosed. The bacteria from gum infections can pass into the bloodstream and attach to blood vessels, thereby increasing one's risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
However, even without clear gum inflammation, poor oral hygiene in and of itself has the risk of causing gum disease, the bacteria of which could also get into the bloodstream and cause raised C-reactive protein-a sign of inflammation within blood vessels, which increases the risk of developing heart disease and even stroke.
To prevent the risk of heart disease, patients can start by avoiding the onset of gum disease. Some common symptoms include the following:
- Swollen, red gums that are sore to touch
- Bleeding gums during eating, brushing, or flossing
- Pus and other symptoms of infection around the teeth and gums
- Receded gums
- Bad breath (halitosis) or a bad taste
- Teeth that feel loose or like they're moving away from other teeth
Regular dental exams and good oral hygiene are the best ways of protecting yourself from developing gum disease. This includes brushing twice per day using a soft-bristled toothbrush and a fluoride toothpaste as well as flossing at least once daily.