Dental hygiene is not just important for your gums and teeth. In fact, oral health can affect many aspects of your overall health including the health of your heart.
While the exact connection between good oral hygiene and the prevention of heart disease is not known, experts in these two fields recently reviewed several dozen studies in order to gain a better understanding of the links between gum disease and heart problems. In the end, they agreed that the studies demonstrated three things:
- Gum disease does increase your risk for coronary artery disease.
- It increases the risk for many diseases of the arteries and blood vessels which supply blood to the brain. There may also be a link between gum disease and a higher risk of stroke.
- Clogged arteries, especially in the legs, can often be associated with gum disease.
In many of these conditions, the bacteria present are often very similar, and inflammation is also a typical symptom of both a high risk of heart attack and moderate-severe gum disease.
In patients with serious case of gum disease, levels of C-reactive protein- a protein used to assess a patient’s risk of heart attack- are much higher than in patients who do not suffer from gingivitis or periodontal disease.
This protein rises during whole-body inflammation and can exacerbate existing conditions including risk of stroke and many heart conditions. Risk factors for both include use of tobacco, diabetes, and poor nutrition.
The reason that gum disease can have such a profound impact on a patient’s overall health is quite simple: Gingivitis and periodontal disease are caused by plaque building at the gum line, leading to infection.
The bacteria from these infections can easily become dislodged, entering the bloodstream and increasing the chances of clot formation. When clots form they can have several negative effects on the circulatory system such as elevating blood pressure, decreasing blood flow to the heart, and increasing the risk of a heart attack.
Up to 80% of North American adults are affected by gum disease, but the best method of treatment is prevention. Regular dental exams are essential in catching the disease in its early stages for more effective and faster treatment. Warning signs of gum disease include:
- Bleeding during brushing or flossing
- Red, swollen, or tender gums
- Chronic bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth
- Gums pulling away from the teeth
- Loose teeth or teeth moving away from each other