What is the link between Heart Disease and Gum Disease (Periodontal Disease)?
If your doctor were to say your cholesterol levels were too high and you had double the chance of developing heart disease, would you do something about it? Most people would. They may consult a nutritionist, start an exercise regimen or simply modify their diet by eliminating cheese or switching to egg whites. Now suppose you discovered the incidence of heart disease was twice as high in people with periodontal disease, and you were one of the millions of people who suffered from this condition. Would you set up an appointment with your dentist? According to some studies, periodontal disease (which affects the bone and tissue surrounding your teeth) has proven to be a stronger risk factor than any of the other conditions usually linked to heart disease (e.g., hypertension, high cholesterol, age and gender). Oral bacteria can infect damaged hearts and certain oral bacteria can cause platelets to aggregate. New findings have emerged to explain how and why bacteria that cause periodontal disease can also increase the risk of heart disease. Researchers at Harvard’s School of Dental Medicine and presenters at the 150th annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science also concluded that the bacteria found in plaque (the primary etiological factor causing gum disease) is linked to coronary disease. People with periodontal disease are up to two times as likely to suffer a fatal heart attack and nearly three times more likely to suffer a stroke as those individuals without this disease. It is speculated that oral bacteria, the most common form being streptococci, enters the bloodstream through small ulcers in the gum tissue. The bacteria cause the platelets in the bloodstream to aggregate and form blood clots (thrombi) which can block blood vessels and infect heart valves.
When you consider the effects of gum disease, think not only in terms of how it affects your teeth, but also how it could possibly lead to a serious and perhaps fatal infection from the release of bacteria into your bloodstream. Avoid other risk factors such as smoking and chewing tobacco, both of which have a detrimental effect on the severity of the gum disease. Systemic diseases like diabetes can lower the oral tissue’s resistance to infection, making periodontal disease even more severe. Review your medical history with your dentist. Many of the medications or therapeutic drugs that you may be taking can decrease your salivary flow and adversely affect your teeth and gums. Prevention is the key to success. Teeth are intended to last you a lifetime, and a healthy heart and body should help improve your overall quality of life.