Heart disease is America’s number one killer. Did you know that heart disease and oral health are linked? There are two different connections between heart disease and your oral health:
Link #1: How gum disease increases risk of heart attacks
Studies have shown that people with moderate or advanced gum disease are more likely to have heart disease than those with healthy gums. Up to 91% of patients with heart disease have periodontitis, compared to 66% of people with no heart disease. Because the mouth is a gateway to the body, people who have chronic gum disease are at a higher risk for heart attack, according to the Academy of General Dentistry.
Some researchers have suggested that gum disease may contribute to heart disease because bacteria from infected gums can dislodge, enter the bloodstream, attach to blood vessels and increase clot formation. It has also been suggested that inflammation caused by gum disease may also trigger clot formation. Clots decrease blood flow to the heart, thereby causing an elevation in blood pressure and increasing the risk of a heart attack.
Studies have not established that either heart disease or gum disease actually causes the other. Though the reasons are not fully understood, it’s clear that gum disease and heart disease often go hand in hand. The two conditions have several risk factors in common, such as smoking, unhealthy diet, diabetes, and excess weight.
Link #2: How oral health warns about heart disease
Oral health holds clues to overall health. Studies have shown that oral health can provide warning signs for other diseases or conditions. More than 90% of all systemic diseases, including heart disease, have oral symptoms. In addition, dentists can help patients with a history of heart disease by examining them for any signs of oral pain, infection or inflammation. Proper diagnosis and treatment of tooth and gum infections in some of these patients have led to a decrease in blood pressure medications and improved overall health.
Gum disease affects 80% of American adults. Warning signs that you may have gum disease include red, tender or swollen gums, bleeding gums while brushing or flossing, gums that seem to be pulling away from your teeth, chronic bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth, and teeth that are loose or are separating from each other.
Prevention is the best medicine
Although gum disease seems to be associated with heart disease, more studies are needed to know exactly what the relationship is. Research has not shown that treatment for one of these diseases will help control the other, but we do know that regular dental checkups, professional cleanings and good oral hygiene practices can improve oral health and that good oral health contributes to good overall health.