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How Your Mouth Affects Your Heart

November 18, 2013

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a disease that involves the heart and blood vessels. It ranks as the number one cause of death and disability in the United States, with almost 700,000 deaths each year. This statistic accounts for close to 29% of all deaths in the United States. This disease costs Americans billions of dollars every year for health care treatments, medications, disability and loss of life. People are worried about it and spend thousands of dollars trying to prevent it – enrolling in gym memberships, buying supplements, cooking healthy meals – but sometimes they forget to do the fundamentals like brush their teeth everyday. This may sound too good to be true but your oral health is more important than you realize.

Your Oral Health is the Window to Your Overall Health

Your oral health can offer clues about the state of your overall health in the same way that oral and dental problems can affect the rest of your body. In the past, a doctor who suspects heart disease in his patient would most likely not refer him to a gum specialist, but times have changed. Research performed over the past five to ten years indicates possible links between oral health and body health, encouraging physicians and dentists to take a more holistic approach to the overall health of their patients. You might be wondering – how can the health of your mouth affect your whole body?

Your Mouth is the Gateway to Your Body

Your mouth is one of the main entryways of bacteria into your body. This isn't normally a problem because your body’s natural defenses coupled with good oral health care can keep these bacteria under control. However, without proper dental hygiene, bacteria can build up causing infections, tooth decay, and gum disease. This is why the simple habit of brushing your teeth, flossing daily, and seeing a dentist regularly are more important than you might think.

Over time, if infection is uncontrolled, inflammation worsens and the reaction of chemicals being released by the process eat away at the bone structure and gums that hold your teeth in place. This is called periodontitis, a severe gum disease. This can cause inflammation throughout the body, an underlying problem also found in heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis. The inflammation in the body, caused by disease in the mouth, is just part of the link between gum disease and heart disease.

Establishing a Link Between Gum Disease and Heart Disease

In 2009, a paper on the relationship between heart disease and gum disease was developed by the American Academy of Periodontology and The American Journal of Cardiology. While the reasons are not fully understood, it recommends encouraging cardiologists to ask their patients about any gum disease problems, and the periodontists to ask their patients about any family history of heart disease and their heart health. According to the study, people with severe gum disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from some form of cardiovascular disease (CVD) as those without gum disease. In fact, up to 91% of patients with heart disease have periodontitis, compared to 66% of people with no heart disease.

How Does Oral Health Affect Heart Diseases

While the connection between severe gum disease and heart disease remains unclear, there is no question that there appears to be a connection. There are two possible theories - one being that inflammation in the mouth causes inflammation in the blood vessels, increasing the risk for heart attack.  Inflamed blood vessels allow less blood to travel between the heart and the rest of the body, raising blood pressure.  Another theory shows that bacteria found in severe gum disease can also be found in hardened arteries, clearly establishing a connection between the two.

The bottom line is that gum disease might be an early sign of cardiovascular problems. CVDs are very hard to detect early because it shows no visible symptoms until late. Further studies may help establish treatment of both diseases, but until then, consult with your cardiologist and dentist to ensure that your heart health and oral health - and the connection between the two - are as healthy as can be. If you're in the Indianapolis area, contact Dr. Ted Reese, DDS, MAGD, a nationally-recognized dentist and one of the best dentists in Indianapolis.