A Healthy Mouth Leads to a Healthy Heart
The knee bone may be connected to the hip bone, but did you know that the teeth are closely connected to the health of the heart? Several studies have shown that diseases of the gums are associated with heart disease. While a cause-and-effect relationship has not yet been proven, research has indicated that periodontal disease increases the risk of heart disease. Perhaps inflammation caused by gum or periodontal disease may be responsible for the association.
Gum disease, which begins when plaque builds up around your teeth, is closely linked to premature birth, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health problems. A report from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that treating gum disease can lead to better health, as evidenced by lower health care costs and fewer hospitalizations.
Periodontal disease can also exacerbate existing heart conditions. For example, it is well known that patients at risk for endocarditis such as those with artificial heart valves should receive antibiotics prior to dental procedures including teeth cleaning.
If heart disease were not enough of a worry, there are additional studies that have pointed to a relationship between periodontal disease and stroke. In one study that looked at the causal relationship of oral infection as a risk factor for stroke, people diagnosed with a stroke were found more likely to have an oral infection when compared to those in the control group. The more bacteria you have from gum-disease, the thicker your carotid arteries are, which provide oxygen to your brain and decrease the necessary oxygen to your brain and place you at risk for a stroke.
I learned in medical school that inflammation leads to hardening of the arteries, also called atherosclerosis. That's a condition that reduces the blood to your heart. It puts you at greater risk for heart attack and stroke.
Inflammation of the gums, which causes red, painful, tender gums, and gingivitis, can lead to infected pockets of pus teaming with bacteria. It allows bacteria and other toxins to spread below the gum line. When inflammation disrupts the gum layer, you're risk of getting bacteria into your bloodstream, which can go anywhere including your heart.
What are the signs of periodontal disease? I suggest you contact your dentist if you have swollen, red, or tender gums, gums that bleed easily, bad breath, build up of hard brown deposits or plaque along the gum line, loose teeth or teeth that are falling out, or changes in the way that dentures and other dental appliances fit.
But it's important to get regular dental checkups. You should also be sure to treat any gum disease early, if you want to save your pearly whites and protect your heart. If you are diligent about treating your mouth health, your overall health gets better. So brush your teeth a bit longer and floss a little more often. Everyone likes a clean and healthy mouth, and maybe your heart just might love it, too.
Bottom line: As your dentist always tells you, brush and floss every day to keep your gums healthy. See your dentist regularly and he\she may just be able to give you advice to protect your heart.
Dr. Neil Baum is a physician in New Orleans and can be reached at 504 891-8454 or through his website, www.neilbaum.com