Teeth can say a lot about our heart health, and science seems to support this notion. For decades, researchers have investigated the link between gum disease and cardiovascular health. More research is needed to understand it entirely, but one thing we do know: Oral health is an integral part of our overall health, and daily mouth care contributes to our whole body's well-being.
The oral health and cardiovascular disease link
According to the American Dental Association, periodontal disease (gum disease) is an infection of the tissues that support the teeth.
Untreated gingivitis can turn into gum disease. When this happens, inflammation increases and, if it becomes chronic, can contribute to other health problems. Long-term gum disease is not only bad for our oral health but may also indicate inflammation in the rest of the body, which can be a predictor of cardiovascular disease.
Gum disease also creates an environment where bacteria can enter the bloodstream. Certain studies suggest that the same bacteria in the mouth have been found in plaque and blockages of heart arteries, leading to heart attack and stroke. They also indicate that those with gum disease may be nearly twice as at risk for heart attack and stroke.
"Those who experience dental disease often have other risk factors or conditions that complicate dental health. Untreated gum disease is an inflammatory condition, and we now know that inflammation is a significant risk factor for coronary artery disease," says Michael Moulton, MD, Nebraska Medicine thoracic and cardiac surgeon. "As a heart surgeon, I want people to know that the most common cause of getting a heart valve infected is your teeth. Bacteria are introduced into your bloodstream through the mouth and can attach themselves to an abnormal heart valve (such as mitral valve prolapse, for example). Additionally, if a person has a valve implant, it's important to take antibiotics before seeing a dentist to reduce infection risk."
Signs your dentist may notice
Preventive daily care and regular dental visits are essential to maintaining good oral health. Signs that may indicate a potential problem include:
• Swollen, red, tender gums or gums that bleed easily
• Pus between the teeth and gums
• Bad breath
• Hard brown deposits along the gum line
• Loose teeth or teeth that are moving apart
• Changes in the way dental appliances fit
Take care of your teeth like your heart depends on it
To avoid inflammation and a potential introduction of bacteria into the bloodstream, practice and maintain good oral health to protect your heart.
• Brush teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste
• Clean between teeth daily with floss
• Eat a balanced diet and limit between-meal snacks
• Visit your dentist regularly for cleanings and exams
When you think about your health, don't forget that your oral health is part of the bigger picture. Everything is connected, so when you take care of your teeth, you take care of your heart.