The Connection Between Gum Disease and Heart Disease

There is growing concern over the connection of gum disease and heart disease. Unfortunately, most people think teeth have no connection to the rest of the body. There are many connections, including the fact that every tooth and its supporting structures contain arteries that travel to the heart.

According to the American Academy of Periodontology, several studies have shown an association between gum disease (periodontal disease) and heart disease. The relationship appears to be in the inflammation that is found in gum disease. Inflammation has been used as an indication of increased risk of heart disease.

There appears to also be a connection between gum disease and stroke. One study found that people diagnosed with acute cerebrovascular ischemia (stroke caused by blood supply being cut off from part of the brain), were found more likely to have gum disease than those with healthy mouths. 

Are You at Risk for Stroke & Heart Disease With Gum Disease?

Many of the same risk factors that we know affect heart disease, also give rise to gum disease. To minimize the risk of heart disease and stroke, it's important to live a healthy lifestyle concerning your whole body. Taking care of your mouth is very important towards general health. Studies have shown your mouth can provide important signs and warnings of disease in the body.

The most common cause of gum disease is poor oral hygiene and not visiting your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and check ups. Other causes include:

  • Tobacco - Cancer, lung disease and heart disease all have been linked to tobacco use. Risk of periodontal disease is also increased with tobacco use.

  • Poor Nutrition & Obesity - Vital nutrients are important for the health of the whole body. The body will find it difficult to fight infection if the immune system is compromised by poor diet and nutrition. The first stage of gum disease includes inflammation which becomes worse if not arrested by a healthy immune system.

  • Excessive Alcohol Use - Alcohol tends to dry the tissues, which provides an environment that harmful bacteria thrive in that cause gum disease.

  • Genetics - If one or both of your parents lost their teeth at an early age, you may be susceptible to gum disease. However, this does not mean you will also loose your teeth. A genetic test before you have gum disease or tooth loss, may help you to be more committed to keeping your teeth for a lifetime.

  • Mouth-breathing - This dries the tissues and can lead to dry mouth and gum disease.

  • Recreational Drugs - Drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine destroy the supporting structures of the teeth.

  • Stress - High blood pressure, cancer, and many other health disorders are linked to stress. Stress weakens the immune system, leading to the inability to fight infection.

  • Medications - Contraceptives, anti-depressants and certain other medicines can affect oral health with their side effects.

  • Clenching or Grinding the Teeth - Excessive force placed on the teeth and the supporting structures can lead to bone loss, cracked teeth and receding gums.

  • Old Age - There is an increased rate of gum disease with age. Studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that over 70% of Americans older than 65 have some form of gum disease.

How Gum Disease May be Connected to Heart Disease

With bleeding gums, the bacteria in gum infection can travel throughout the body within the bloodstream. The same bacteria found in gum disease is also found in hardened arteries. As oral bacteria from bleeding gums enter the blood stream, they attach to fatty plaques in the heart blood vessels and cause clot formation.

The blood clots obstruct normal blood flow, which minimizes the amount of nutrients and oxygen reaching the heart for normal function. Heart attack is the result if the heart cannot function properly.

According to the American Dental Association, gum disease (periodontal disease) afflicts more than 70 million of the American population. It's known as the silent disease, because you may have no pain or other symptoms.

Warning Signs and Symptoms of Gum Disease

Since pain is usually not present with gum disease, it's important to watch out for other warning signs. These include: 

  • Red, tender or swollen gums
  • Bleeding gums when brushing or flossing
  • Constant bad breath
  • Bad taste in the mouth
  • Loose teeth
  • Pus between gums and teeth
  • Partial dentures becoming loose
  • Receding gums that appear to be pulling away from your teeth

    With all the information available on how to live a healthy lifestyle, and understanding the risk factors of heart disease and stroke, it's a matter of just doing it. This means eating healthy meals, getting adequate exercise and managing stress. Smiling while showing healthy teeth and gums will be the icing on the cake.

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