09 Feb Is Dental Health Related to Heart Health?
The research is clear: people who don’t take care of their gums are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular issues than those who do. Experts and researchers still aren’t entirely sure why this is. However, study after study has shown that a connection between gum disease and heart health does exist.
Gum disease, an infection of the gums, may contribute to developing heart disease later on. This can include coronary artery disease, hardening of the arteries, and weakening heart muscles. The best method of prevention is to brush and floss daily and make regular appointments with our dentists.
The Connection Between Gum Disease and Heart Health
While correlation doesn’t equal causation, but seeing the same results over and over again is a sure sign that something is going on. While a clear connection hasn’t been established yet, enough research has been done to show that there is a connection between gum disease and heart health.
Theories do exist and they all have their strong points. One of the strongest is that bacteria from gum disease makes its way into the bloodstream, eventually causing inflammation of the blood vessels and resulting in a stroke. This explanation has gained a lot of traction since oral bacteria has been found in blood vessels far away from the heart.
It’s also possible that there is no actual medical connection. Instead, there are other factors that those with gum disease and those with poor heart health both share. One of these factors could be smoking, which is a common cause for both gum disease and heart problems. Other factors could be:
- Not getting enough exercise
- Difficulty accessing adequate healthcare
- Lack of insurance
This theory is supported by a 2018 study which found that, despite a correlation between tooth heart disease and tooth loss, there was little connection when smoking was taken into account.
Despite these findings, many other studies have found this connection. What’s probably most important to remember is that oral health is an indicator of overall health. While a person may seem in tip-top shape, poor oral health may point to the fact that they’re not nearly as healthy as they appear to be.
What Is Gum Disease?
Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease or periodontitis, is caused by bacteria that grow in your mouth. It begins in its early stages as gingivitis, which is a type of gum inflammation.
At this stage, the buildup of bacteria and plaque on your teeth causes the gums to become sore and inflamed, usually accompanied by bleeding when you brush and floss. Gum disease can still be reversed at this point with proper oral hygiene and regular dental appointments.
The real problems start when gingivitis is left untreated and develops into periodontitis. At this stage, the gums begin to pull away from the teeth, causing pockets to form. These pockets allow for bacteria and other debris to collect in them, possibly leading to an infection. Once an infection has set in, the disease begins to eat away at the gum tissue and bone that hold your teeth in place. Your teeth can become loose or even fall out!
The gum disease periodontitis is actually the leading cause of missing teeth for adults between the ages of 20 and 39 missing one tooth. This only gets worse as people get older, with those between 40 and 49 years of age missing 3.5 teeth on average, and people over the age of 60 missing eight teeth on average due to the disease.
What Is Heart Disease?
“Heart disease” is actually an umbrella term for multiple conditions that affect the heart. It includes:
- Coronary artery disease (CAD)
- Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
- Weakening heart muscles (cardiomyopathy)
Heart disease can come in many forms but they can all end in the same tragic results. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), one in every four deaths in the U.S. is due to heart disease. This goes for white, Black, and Hispanic people. Nearly half of Americans are at risk and the statistics are only growing.
The prevalence of heart disease in Americans is alarming. While maintaining good oral hygiene isn’t a silver bullet, it’s a step in the right direction in caring for your oral health as well as your overall health.
Protect Your Heart by Protecting Your Teeth
Heart disease isn’t the only threat to your health if you don’t take care of your teeth. Harmful bacteria can lead to other health problems such as oral cancer, pneumonia, and complications with pregnancy or birth.
Fortunately, protecting your teeth and overall health is much easier than you may think. All it takes is following the basics of oral hygiene:
- Brushing your teeth for two minutes, twice a day
- Flossing at least once a day after eating
- Regular appointments with our dentists
Flossing is particularly important. It helps protect your gums from bacteria by cleaning the areas between your teeth that your brush can’t reach.
While a lot of attention is paid to flossing when it comes to fighting gum disease, recent research has shown that brushing for the right amount of time can be just as important. It found that people who brushed less than two minutes, twice per day, were three times more likely to develop heart disease than those who do. While the study has its limits, it again points to how you need a complete oral hygiene regimen to get the most benefits from your routine.
While experts aren’t clear about the connection between dental health and heart health, multiple studies have shown that there seems to be one. Untreated gum disease can lead to tooth loss and possibly heart disease later on. To avoid this, make sure that you’re brushing, flossing, and keeping up with your dental appointments.