A collaboration between Heartbeat Health and CPW Dentistry.
Does even just the thought of heart disease leave a bad taste in your mouth? Does thinking about poor oral hygiene break your heart? Well, science offers some explanations about the link between periodontal disease and heart disease and why caring about both could save you a bunch of heart-ache (and tooth-ache).
The American Dental Association defines gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, as inflammation of the gums from a build-up of bacteria known as dental plaque. About half of adults over 30 have it! In its early stages, as plaque and tartar (hardened plaque) build up around your gum line, gum disease can cause bad breath, bleeding, and pain. Over time, damage from gum disease can cause your gums to recede, which can create more pockets for bacteria to grow. Left untreated, this can cause permanent damage to your gums and the bones that hold your teeth in place, which can put you at risk for tooth loss. Anyone can be susceptible to gum disease, but risk factors include poor oral care habits, smoking or chewing tobacco, older age, dry mouth, genetics, misaligned teeth that are difficult to clean, and hormonal changes like those related to pregnancy. The good news is that regular dental visits can help prevent or manage gum disease by removing bacteria-filled plaque. Even advanced gum disease can usually be treated by a specialist.
Just as they say the way to someone’s heart is through their mouth, there’s a good amount of scientific evidence that shows periodontal disease works the same way. While there are several different types of heart disease, there are two that are associated with periodontal disease: coronary artery disease and valvular heart disease.
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
Coronary artery disease refers to blockages in the arteries of the heart that are responsible for bringing the heart all of its oxygen and nutrients. If the arteries become completely blocked, it can cause symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and even result in a heart attack. There are several known risk factors for CAD, which include smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and many more. A review of the research looking at how periodontal disease affects CAD showed that people with periodontal disease had a 30-50% increased chance of having a heart attack compared to those who didn’t.
There are a few theories about how this happens. The first is that when inflammation occurs somewhere in the body, that translates to inflammation all over the body. Researchers have shownthat levels of inflammation in the blood are higher in patients with periodontal disease. It doesn’t stop there though. The same bacteria that take over those little pockets around teeth can get into the blood and make their way into the walls of the arteries around the heart: the coronary arteries. This directly causes inflammation in those arteries, which leads to build-up of what’s called plaque. It’s not the same as the plaque found in your mouth, but neither one is good. In the coronary arteries, plaque build-up is what causes the blockages that can ultimately lead to symptoms and heart attacks.
Valvular Heart Disease (VHD)
The role of the heart valves is to make sure that blood flows through the heart in the right direction so that it gets to the rest of your body after picking up oxygen in the lungs. When the valves become damaged in various ways, blood can end up going in the wrong direction and ultimately result in forms of congestive heart failure. Some research has shown that in patients with heart valve problems bad enough to require surgery, bacteria that cause cavities and periodontal infections were found on the heart valves of about 90% of patients. They always say, “You are what you eat,” but I bet you never thought about your mouth’s bacteria being that “hearty,” did you?
The company it keeps
Several researchers, including the American Heart Association, caution people about these two diseases. There are a lot of risk factors common to the development of both periodontal and heart disease such as smoking, diabetes, and unhealthy diet. This means that it can be difficult to conclude that one problem causes the other. It’s possible that these risk factors, many of which are modifiable with lifestyle changes, contribute to the development of both problems. In light of this, the American Heart Association doesn’t yet recommend treatment of periodontal disease directly as a preventive measure for heart disease. That said, regardless of whether one causes the other or they’re both caused by similar risk factors, people should really take this information to heart.
So what now? For starters, if you do have any modifiable risk factors like smoking, diabetes, obesity, or poor diet, there’s no better time than the present to start changing your lifestyle. If you don’t know what your risk factors are, have no fear! There are plenty of people ready and willing to help you optimize your risk profile.
Regular dental checks will help you avoid periodontal disease and regular heart checks will help you prevent heart disease. For a healthy mouth, a healthy heart, and a healthy you, find out how we can help!
The content presented here is meant to be for general information purposes only and is not meant to serve as medical advice.