Sick At Heart? It May Begin With Gum Disease

periodontal diseaseWhen you hear the term “heart healthy,” the first thing that comes to mind may not be your oral health. But you shouldn’t overlook the strong connection between gum disease and heart conditions.

Gum disease, medically known as periodontal disease, is an infection of the oral areas that surround the teeth. But gum disease is an umbrella term that poorly describes the variety of periodontal diseases that can affect all areas related to the teeth. Infections can attack not just the gums, but the cementum (the specialized tissues that anchor teeth to bone) and the oral bone structures. But periodontal disease may not stop there.

How Gum Disease Is Connected To Heart Disease & Stroke

A number of medical studies show how the inflammation rooted in gum disease may trigger heart disease. Periodontal disease can also aggravate heart diseases that are already present in a patient. People who are at risk for infective endocarditis, an inflammation of the heart’s inner tissues or valves, sometimes need antibiotic treatment before undergoing a dental procedure.

Further studies have found a connection between gum disease and stroke. During a study in which the underlying relationship of periodontal infections to risk factors for stroke were scrutinized, patients with acute cerebrovascular ischemia (a condition that affects blood flow to the brain) were found more likely to have a gum or other periodontal infection than patients that were in the control group.

With almost 20 years of research on the link between gum disease and chronic heart conditions or stroke, doctors are taking the connection more seriously. Does this mean that proper oral care and hygiene like regular brushing and flossing give you a healthy heart? Could dental professionals examine your mouth and predict your risk of heart disease?

More and more doctors are saying that may be.

So, how exactly does inflammation produced by gum disease link to serious heart conditions or stroke? The gums are highly vascular. That means that they are rich in blood vessels. Adding to this, your mouth is full of bacteria even when your oral health is good. So when the mouth’s gum layer is disturbed, no matter how minor that disturbance, bacteria is introduced into your body’s bloodstream. Once there, bacteria has a highway to everywhere within the body and can trigger inflammation anywhere. Inflammation is a primary damager to blood vessels, including the vascular system of the heart.

The science and medical communities already know inflammation of blood vessels leads to hardened arteries. This condition restricts blood flow to the heart, which in turn increases risks for heart attack or stroke.

Sore, swollen gums are the primary indicator of inflammation in the mouth. While there are two chief kinds of periodontal disease –gingivitis and periodontitis- it is periodontitis that is the main cause for concern when it comes to a connection to heart disease. Periodontitis can lead to infected sacks of germ-filled pus, and it is this that creates the opportunity for bacteria and toxins to spread into the rest of the body.

Studies have shown that the bacteria found in gum disease can spread to the heart. Among these bacteria is Streptococcus Sanguis, which plays a role in stroke. It has been shown that when periodontal disease is not present, bacteria like Streptococcus Sanguis within the heart is significantly absent.

Researchers believe that the more bacteria are present in the body, the likelier it is that the heart will be affected. They believe that reducing the long-term presence of bacteria inside the body lowers the risk factors of heart disease.

It’s very important to note, however, that treating yourself with antibiotics without proper medical supervision (such as your doctor or dental professional) is not the most effective way to combat the effects of gum disease. Over medicating with antibiotics is a sure way to dramatically decrease their long-term benefits. Taking them when they aren’t needed all but guarantees they won’t work for you when you need them most. Always ask your doctor or dental professional when considering if you need antibiotics.

Questions? Call TLC Dentistry

Dr. Rawa Hassan of TLC Dentistry in Dunedin is also known for her holistic approach to dentistry. Resolving oral health issues in a natural, holistic way helps prevent the need for more invasive procedures. Whether you’re in need regular dental care or specific dental procedures like mercury and amalgam removal, periodontal therapy or more, Dr. Hassan and her staff at TLC Dentistry are highly qualified to serve you.

If you have questions, please call (727) 785-2467 or use our Contact Page.