Keeping “heart healthy” could be as simple as brushing your teeth and visiting the dentist. More studies now show a link between heart disease and dental disease. The problem is 75 percent of Americans have untreated gum (periodontal) disease, according to the American Dental Association. Many people don’t even know they have it. It is believed that bacteria found in dental plaque can migrate through the gums and lodge in arteries causing coronary artery disease (CAD). The American Academy of Periodontology reports people with untreated periodontal disease are twice as likely to develop CAD. Some researchers even think periodontal disease could be early signs of cardiovascular disease.
Research published in the Harvard Heart Letter found people with periodontitis (gum inflammation and erosion) had several types of bacteria in their bloodstream believed to cause plaque in the arteries (atherosclerosis). This plaque narrows arteries and releases toxins that damage blood vessels, lead to heart attack and blood clots.
Inflammation of the mouth is also believed to cause inflammation in other parts of the body, including the walls of arteries. Bacteria from gum disease can elevate blood sugar in diabetics, leading to kidney and cardiovascular disease. Dental infection is also linked to stroke, premature births, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis and endocarditis (infection of the heart lining). Patients with diabetes or HIV are more prone to complications from dental disease.
Open Your Mouth for Your Heart
Good oral hygiene is a daily essential to good oral health, but it is still not enough. Regular dental visits are mandatory. The American Heart Association has found people who have dental cleanings reduce their risk for heart attack by 24 percent. Many disease symptoms show up in the mouth where dentists are trained to find them and refer you to a doctor. Dentists know that:
- bleeding gums and bad breath could be a sign of diabetes
- A painful jaw could signal an impending heart attack.
- Inflamed gums or loose teeth could be early warning signs for heart disease.
Warning Signs of Gum Disease
Gum disease has no symptoms in its earliest stages. Healthy gums are light pink and firm. See the dentist if you:
- Have constant bleeding after you brush or floss
- Have receding gums
- Suffer from swollen or red gums
- Have pain when you chew or bite into food.
- Have loose teeth.
Make sure to brush twice and floss once daily for good oral hygiene. If you have active heart disease, it may be advised by your doctor that you take a regimen of antibiotics before a dental procedure. This reduces the chance of oral bacteria migrating to the heart and causing inflammation (endocarditis) of the heart lining.