According to Delta Dental, however, there is now evidence of two specific links between oral health and heart disease. First, recent studies show that if you have gum disease in a moderate or advanced stage, you're at higher risk for heart disease than someone with healthy gums. And second, your oral health can provide doctors with warning signs for a range of diseases and conditions, including those in the heart.
How Oral Health and Heart Disease Are Connected
Oral health and heart disease are connected by the spread of bacteria – and other germs – from your mouth to other parts of your body through the bloodstream. When these bacteria reach the heart, they can attach themselves to any damaged area and cause inflammation. According to Mayo Clinic, this can result in illnesses such as endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart. According to the American Heart Association, other cardiovascular conditions such as atherosclerosis (clogged arteries) and stroke have also been linked to inflammation caused by oral bacteria.
Patients with chronic gum conditions such as gingivitis or advanced periodontal disease have the highest risk for heart disease caused by poor oral health, particularly if it remains undiagnosed and unmanaged. The bacteria associated with gum infection are in the mouth and can enter the bloodstream, where they attach to the blood vessels and increase your risk for cardiovascular disease. Even if you don't have noticeable gum inflammation, however, inadequate oral hygiene and accumulated plaque, also known as biofilm, put you at risk for gum disease. The bacteria can also migrate into your bloodstream, causing elevated C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation in the blood vessels. This can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
According to the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP), you may have gum disease, even if it's in its early stages, if:
- Your gums are red, swollen, and sore to the touch.
- Your gums bleed when you eat, brush or floss.
- You see pus or other signs of infection around the gums and teeth.
- Your gums look as if they are "pulling away" from the teeth.
- You frequently have bad breath or notice a bad taste in your mouth.
- Or some of your teeth are loose or feel as if they are moving away from the other teeth.
Good oral hygiene and regular dental examinations are the best way to protect yourself against gum disease development. The American Dental Association (ADA) Mouth Healthy site recommends brushing your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled brush that perfectly fits your mouth, so it reaches every tooth surface adequately. The ADA also suggests that you use an ADA-accepted toothpaste, which is proven to increase gum health in four weeks. You should also floss daily and visit your dental hygienist for regular professional cleanings.
By being proactive about your oral health, you can protect yourself from developing a connection between oral health and heart disease and keep your smile healthy, clean, and beautiful throughout your life.
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.