There has been much debate in medical community for many years over whether or not dental health and heart disease are related. And the issue is far from resolved. Research seems to suggest a surprising number of links between the state of your mouth and the health of your heart. A recent review of several published studies finds that gum disease is, by itself, a risk factor for coronary artery disease.
But how are they related?
Many experts believe the common problem in both gum disease and heart disease may simply be inflammation. Hardening of the arteries has a strong inflammation component. Much of the buildup of plaque in the arteries is an inflammatory process.
Gum disease has an inflammation component as well. If you’re not effectively and regularly removing the plaque buildup on your teeth, your risk for gum disease increases. Once gum disease has developed, you create an environment for bacteria that do not normally grow in your mouth. As the gum disease progresses and the gums begin to bleed, that bacteria can move into your bloodstream, setting up an inflammatory process in the blood vessels.
The final answer is…
Experts in periodontology and cardiology recently reviewed more than 120 published medical studies, position papers, and other data on the heart and dental health link. They developed a consensus report, published simultaneously in the Journal of Periodontology and the American Journal of Cardiology. Was there a consensus? Not really. They did, however, find two areas that showed a direct link between heart health and oral health: the type of bacteria found in both health problems, and inflammation.*
So Now What?
According to the American Academy of Periodontology, half of all people over age 55 have gum disease. Gum disease is also the main reason people 35 and older lose their teeth.
Considering even the possibility of a link to heart disease, staying on top of your dental health just got even more important. Practice good dental hygiene, and visit your dentist regularly.
If you happen to notice any of these symptoms, let your dentist know immediately — they could be warning signs of gum disease:
- Sour taste in the mouth
- Persistent bad breath
- Bleeding gums
- Swollen, tender gums
- Loose teeth
- Sensitive teeth
- Pain when chewing
And remember: Preventing gum disease — or treating it with deep cleanings, medication, or surgery — may just help you prevent heart problems down the road.