The Oral-Cardiac Connection: Gum Disease & Heart Disease

Although there is no solid evidence that poor oral health causes heart disease, there is enough of a connection that the Canadian Dental Association encourages good hygiene for better heart health.

Harvard Medical School reports that oral bacteria have been found in plaque build-up in the arteries and heart. The conversation continues to stay fresh in the minds of medical and dental providers, who continue to ask:

“Does poor oral health really have an effect on heart health?”

The answer is . . . maybe.

It is thought that oral bacteria can be released into the bloodstream during brushing or chewing in patients who have tissue and bone damage in the mouth (gum disease). This bacterium is then distributed all over the body and either encourages plaque development in the arteries or lodges there.

Another idea about the connection between oral health and the heart is that toxins released by bacteria look similar to normal proteins found in the circulation system. It may be difficult for researchers to see these for what they are, but the immune system attacks these toxins. The immune response may damage vessels or make patients more prone to blood clots.

Yet another hypothesis revolves around inflammation. Disease in the mouth causes inflammation that might increase inflammation throughout the body – especially in the arteries, which can lead to heart attack and stroke.

Whatever the possible connection might be, dentists and doctors alike are urging everyone to take better care of the teeth.

Here are a few things to look out for:

1. Don’t ignore tenderness, bleeding, or pain in the mouth.

Red, sore gums that bleed when brushing or flossing can indicate gum disease (periodontal disease). The bacteria present in the mouth can start to break down gums and even bone that supports the teeth. This is the bacteria that have been found in the arteries and hearts of cardiovascular patients.

2. Never slack off on dental hygiene.

Gently brushing teeth twice a day with a soft brush and fluoride toothpaste can help stave off periodontal disease, and therefore the oral risk of heart disease. The dentist may also recommend an anti-bacterial mouthwash for people at risk for periodontal disease.

3. Don’t skip visits to the dentist.

It remains a necessity to visit the dentist twice a year. A dentist can spot trouble before it becomes a serious issue. Even one year without dental care can spell problems that may affect the teeth far into the future.

The Bottom Line

The research, so far, is inconclusive. Researchers continue to look for evidence that mouth and heart health share a connection. In the meantime, what can it hurt to assume that there is a connection? Working toward better health is always a great endeavour.
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