The health of your mouth affects the health of your heart

Periodontal disease and heart disease may seem totally unconnected, but research suggests otherwise. Periodontal disease is a progressive condition in which the tissue surrounding the teeth–gingival tissue–becomes infected. Bacteria move from plaque to colonize above and then then below the gumline, causing the tissue to pull away from the teeth. If it is left untreated, deep pockets will form between the gums and the teeth. Subsequently, the tissue of the underlying jawbone can also be destroyed. This destruction of bone tissue will cause the teeth to shift, become lose, or completely detach from the bone. This progression is somewhat different from that of heart disease, but important to keep in mind: gingivitis, separation of gums and teeth, then destruction of the jawbone.

With coronary heart disease, the walls of the coronary arteries become progressively thicker with the buildup of fatty proteins. The heart suffers from a lack of oxygen and, furthermore, it must work progressively harder to pump blood to the rest of the body (which in turn puts more stress on the heart). Coronary heart disease sufferers experience blood clots which obstruct normal blood flow and reduce the amount of vital nutrients and oxygen the heart needs to function properly. This phenomenon often leads to intense myocardial infarction–myocardial meaning “heart muscles” and infarction “cell death due to lack of oxygen– we know this as a heart attack. Keep this in mind, too, as we explore the connection of these ideas.

Reasons for the Connection

There is little room for doubt that these two conditions are connected. The dentist and cardiologist generally work as a team in order to treat individuals experiencing both conditions. Among the many ideas linking these two conditions are the following:

  • Inflammation – Periodontal disease causes the gum tissue to become severely inflamed. The body will respond by elevating its white blood cell count and also high sensitivity C-reactive protein levels, and these proteins have been linked to heart disease.
  • Prone to infection – Anyone with high levels of oral bacteria might have a weak immune system and an inadequate host inflammatory response. Both of these factors will contribute to a body’s weak response to coronary problems.
  • Oral bacteria contribute to clotting – There are many different strains of periodontal bacteria. Some of these strains of bacteria enter the bloodstream and attach to the fatty plaques in the heart’s blood vessels (coronary arteries). This attachment exacerbates the clot formation, making these clots even more dangerous.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Since periodontal disease appears to be a risk factor for heart problems, it is vital to seek immediate treatment. The dentist will conduct thorough examinations to assess the exact condition of the teeth, gums and jawbone. You can have deep-cleaning treatments such as scaling and root-planing to remove tartar deposits from the gums. Finally, antibiotics may be prescribed to ensure that the periodontal infection does not spread and that the bacterium is completely destroyed.

In most cases, periodontal disease can be prevented with regular cleaning checkups and proper home care.

If you have questions or concerns about periodontal disease and its relation to heart disease and stroke, please ask Dr. Schechter.

Article adapted from Jasper Smiles.

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