While you might brush and floss to keep your mouth healthy, did you know that good oral hygiene could also keep your heart healthy? Studies have shown that there may be a link between gum disease and heart attacks, making it even more important to have a healthy smile.
It might not seem possible for your teeth and gums to affect your heart, but you may be surprised that there is an intricate connection between cardiac health and oral hygiene.
What Is Periodontal Disease?
Before delving into the link between gum disease and heart attacks, it helps to have a clear understanding of what periodontal disease is.
Also known as gum disease, periodontal disease refers to an infection in the gums. When this infection becomes more severe, it begins to affect the soft tissues and bones supporting the teeth, leading to more serious problems.
Periodontal disease is an incredibly common dental condition, affecting more than 3 million people in the United States each year alone. An estimated 47% of people over the age of 30 have periodontal disease to some extent.
The risk of developing gum disease increases with age, with about 70% of people over the age of 65 having the condition.
The Causes of Periodontal Disease
Periodontal disease is caused by a buildup of bacteria along the gumline. When bacteria accumulates along the gums, it forms a film called plaque. This plaque causes the gums to become red, swollen, and inflamed.
This is the earliest stage of periodontal disease, otherwise known as gingivitis. Left untreated, the swelling and inflammation becomes worse and leads to severe gum disease.
What is it that leads to bacterial buildup along your gums? The most common cause of this is poor oral hygiene. If you do not brush your teeth and floss at least twice a day, you are leaving food particles and other bacteria inside of your mouth. This bacteria can accumulate along the gumline and eventually lead to gingivitis and periodontal disease.
In some cases, periodontal disease can have causes outside of poor oral hygiene. This includes underlying medical conditions, unhealthy eating habits, and smoking. These instances are less common than gum disease caused by poor oral hygiene, but still contribute to developing the condition.
The Link Between Gum Disease and Heart Attack Patients
So how could an infection in your gums lead to a heart attack? Heart attacks most often occur when there is a blockage in one of the arteries supplying blood to the heart. While there isn’t yet a proven direct link between gum disease and heart attack incidence, the numbers suggest there may be a correlation between the two concerns.
Studies have shown that patients with periodontal disease are two to three times more likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event than those without gum disease. The precise connection between these factors has yet to be determined, but there are several theories behind these numbers:
The first idea is that periodontal disease increases the body’s burden of inflammation. Long-term, chronic inflammation anywhere in the body can contribute to the development of atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis refers to high cholesterol and plaque buildup in the arteries. These factors are the cause of most heart attacks, as plaque buildup in the arteries can create a complete blockage of blood flow to the heart.
Another theory is that the link could be found in common risk factors. Smoking can contribute to the development of both periodontal disease and heart disease. For example, a patient who smokes may have both gum disease and heart disease, but one did not cause the other.
Age and unhealthy eating habits are also risk factors that are associated with both periodontal disease and heart disease. Many patients who have both conditions are older. This doesn’t mean that their gum disease led to their cardiac issues, but that both are simply attributed to their mature age.
As for unhealthy eating habits, following an unhealthy diet that is high in sugar can cause damage to your teeth and the surrounding structures in your mouth. It can also lead to obesity, which increases your risk of heart disease. This could lead to both gum disease and cardiovascular issues occurring at the same time.
Preventing Periodontal Disease
While periodontal disease may not be the cause of heart disease, it is still wise to avoid the condition. Periodontal disease can lead to gum decay, tooth loss, and more serious consequences for your oral health. Preventing gum disease relies on two important factors: early detection and proper oral care.
While you may think your teeth and gums are in good health, there may be signs or symptoms that you’ve overlooked. Detecting gum disease while in its earliest stages can help the condition from progressing in severity. To stop periodontal disease in its tracks, you should look out for the following indicators of infection:
- Swollen gums
- Bad breath
- Bleeding when brushing
- Tender gums
- Pus between the teeth or along the gums
- Loose or shifting teeth
- Plaque buildup along the gumline
When you notice any of these signs, it is important to seek prompt dental care. Your dentist will perform a thorough cleaning and provide guidance on how to prevent the gum infection from progressing any further.
Proper Oral Care
In order to maintain your oral health, it is essential that you practice proper dental hygiene. This involves brushing twice daily, flossing after every meal, and using an antibacterial mouthwash. Keeping your mouth free of bacteria and food particles will reduce the risk of plaque buildup and infection along the gumline or between the teeth.
To prevent periodontal disease and other dental concerns, having regular cleaning from your dentist is vital. Scheduling a complete dental cleaning twice yearly will significantly reduce your risk of developing gum disease. Your dentist can remove plaque buildup and detect early signs of disease before more serious oral health concerns arise.
Preventing periodontal disease is not only important for your oral health — it may prove to be crucial for your cardiovascular health, too. Practicing good oral hygiene and visiting your dentist regularly can help protect both your smile and your heart from disease.