Numerous studies conducted over the past several years have shown a connection between oral health and heart health. Although the two may seem totally unrelated, they are in fact very much connected, specifically with regard to gum disease. Patients with advanced periodontal disease have been shown to have a greater risk of developing heart disease than patients with healthy gums. The current state of your oral health can also provide warning signs to your doctor that you may have other more serious health issues, such as heart disease.
The Role of Inflammation
Just as gum disease caused by bacteria can result in your gums becoming swollen, bacteria can also cause inflammation of the heart. That can lead to cardiovascular diseases, such as clogged arteries or endocarditis (an infection of the heart lining). In fact, the same bacteria that causes gum disease can also travel through the patient’s bloodstream to other areas of the body, including the heart. Once that bacteria reaches the heart, the result is often heart disease or stroke.
People Who Are at Risk
Anyone who has advanced gum disease is at the highest risk of developing oral-health-related heart disease. This is especially true if the patient’s gum disease goes undetected and/or untreated. But even people who don’t have gum disease could have a higher risk for heart disease and stroke if they have poor oral hygiene and a buildup of plaque on the teeth. The bacteria present in plaque can also travel through the bloodstream to the heart.
Symptoms of Gum Disease
The good news is that gum disease is entirely treatable, especially if it’s caught in the early stages. Here are some indications that you might have periodontal disease:
- Gums that are swollen, dark pink or red, and sore
- Bleeding gums (particularly when you floss)
- Gums that are receding or pulling away from the teeth
- Persistent bad breath
- Loose teeth
- Infection of gums around teeth (often indicated by pus on gum tissue)
Treating Gum Disease
Your dentist may recommend any of a variety of procedures designed to treat gum disease, depending on how far the condition has progressed. Deep cleaning may be recommended for patients in the early stages. Prescribed medication and/or oral surgery may be required for more advanced cases. But patients play an important role in prevention and treatment of gum disease as well. Be sure to brush thoroughly at least twice daily with a soft-bristled toothbrush, and floss at least once a day. Consider using an anti-gingivitis mouthwash as well. Combine these daily habits with regular trips to your dentist for professional exams and cleanings, and you might not only improve your oral health; you may improve your heart health as well!