You may have heard that there’s a connection between your teeth and heart health. Understanding how your teeth can affect your heart is essential if you want to protect your cardiovascular health and reduce your risk of heart disease. Given that heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women in the United States, any steps that you can take to reduce your risk are well worth the effort — and that may include having regular dental check-ups and cleaning your teeth properly.
Can dental problems cause heart problems?
Research shows that conditions such as tooth decay and gum disease are associated with heart disease. In fact, people with gum disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from heart disease as people without dental problems.
The reasons for this connection aren’t completely clear, but several theories are possible. Oral health issues such as gum disease, tooth decay, and tooth abscesses are all caused by bacteria in the mouth. One theory is that this bacteria can enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body. The bacteria can then cause infections in other parts of the body, and eventually travel to the heart, where it can damage tissue and even lead to a heart attack.
When bacteria from other parts of the body attach themselves to tissues in the heart, it can also cause a life-threatening inflammatory condition called endocarditis. If left untreated, endocarditis can damage or destroy heart valves. People with damaged or artificial heart valves are especially at risk.
Bacteria present in dental plaque have also been found to cause blood clots, which can damage arteries and affect heart health. Sometimes a blood clot can prove to be fatal, as it is released into the bloodstream and can result in a heart attack.
Oral bacteria are also associated with atherosclerosis, a condition that causes the build-up of fats, cholesterol, and other substances in the artery walls, known as arterial plaque. Arterial plaque restricts blood flow, and ruptured plaques can trigger a blood clot, which in turn can cause a heart attack or stroke.
Another connection between dental health and heart health is that conditions such as gum disease and heart disease are related to inflammation. Inflammatory dental conditions may be a signal that inflammation is present in other parts of the body. Diagnosing and treating these dental conditions in their early stages may help the immune system combat inflammation in other parts of the body more effectively.
Is there a link between gum disease and heart disease?
Many research studies show that there is an association between gum disease and heart disease. Research also shows that treating gum disease can help improve conditions such as cardiovascular disease or cerebrovascular disease, which can lead to a stroke. Individuals with cerebrovascular or cardiovascular disease who received treatment for periodontal disease had lower medical costs and fewer hospitalizations over the course of four years, compared to those who were not treated for gum disease.
Gum disease is also associated with cardiac calcification, a buildup of calcium in the heart’s arteries. Coronary artery calcification is common in patients with heart disease, and is associated with severe consequences, including an increased risk of heart attack. Research found that individuals with severe periodontal disease had significantly higher calcium deposits.
Risk factors for gum disease
Many factors can influence gum health, such as poor oral health habits, smoking, and some prescription medications that decrease saliva production. Other risk factors for gum disease include inadequate nutrition, crooked teeth, or poorly fitted dentures. Women are more at risk of developing gum disease at certain times in their lives due to hormonal fluctuations associated with pregnancy or menopause.
People with diabetes also have a higher risk of gum disease. Because people with diabetes are already 2 to 4 times more likely than others to develop heart disease, any gum disease should be treated immediately, as it can increase the risk of heart problems even more.
Regular dental appointments can help protect your heart health
If you’re experiencing any problems with your teeth, make an appointment with your dentist right away. Don’t ignore any signs of tooth decay, infection, or gum disease, as these problems can lead not only to tooth loss, but also lead to heart disease in the long run.
Scheduling regular dental appointments will also allow you to have your teeth professionally cleaned, which removes plaque and tartar build-up before it can lead to gum disease. Improving your oral health will mean that you’re less likely to suffer from cardiovascular problems in the future.
While good oral health goes a long way to protecting your heart, it won’t completely prevent heart disease. It’s crucial to take good care of your teeth and gums, but you may also need to improve your diet, get more exercise, or cut down on smoking and drinking to reduce your risk of heart disease. Talk to your doctor to learn more about heart disease prevention.
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