In terms of our health, many people view the mouth and its components as separate from the rest of the body. However, research has shown a relationship between the presence of gum disease and heart conditions, including infections and atherosclerosis.
It’s thought that accumulated bacteria from gum disease eventually travels throughout the body and causes an inflammatory reaction. At this point, more frequent teeth brushing has yet to decrease heart disease and other cardiovascular risks.
Understanding Gum Disease
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that half of adults over 30 have some form of gum disease, including gingivitis and periodontitis. By age 65, this risk more than doubles.
Periodontal disease involves inflammation of the gums in response to plaque accumulation. Particularly as bacteria migrate below the gumline, the tissue begins to recede, leading to gum pockets, an increase in tooth decay, potential infections and bone loss.
Gingivitis, the early stage of gum disease, is relatively easy to treat. Yet if the condition is left to progress, inflammation can cause teeth to loosen or fall out and result in jawbone loss. Signs of gum disease include:
- Red or swollen gums
- Tender or sensitive gums
- Receding gums
- Bleeding after brushing or flossing
- Teeth that feel loose or start developing gaps between
- Bad breath that doesn’t go away
- Pus around the gums, including at the base of a tooth
- Hard, brown accumulations near the gumline
- Braces or another dental appliance becomes uncomfortable to wear
Gum Disease, Inflammation & Heart Concerns
Gingivitis and gum disease increase inflammation in the body, which causes your immune system to attack, targeting outside microorganisms and other irritants to encourage a healing response. This pattern can become chronic and begin to affect other areas of your body and overall health.
A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine pointed to a correlation between gum disease and heart issues leading to an adverse cardiovascular event like a stroke or heart attack; inflammation is the suspected association.
Beyond dental health, inflammation can contribute to hardened arteries, a factor which decreases blood flow to the heart and elevates cardiovascular disease risks. Other aspects like smoking and poor diet may further encourage the spread of inflammation and high cholesterol can increase risks for a heart attack or stroke.
As the medical and scientific communities start taking inflammation more seriously, gum disease may potentially contribute to heart issues through the following pathways:
- Mouth Composition: Blood vessels maintain a strong presence in your gum tissue. At the same time, your mouth is home to its own microbiome, which gum disease or lifestyle factors may have altered. Due to this relationship, bacteria can easily enter your bloodstream through your gums, especially when the tissue becomes irritated.
- Bacteria In Blood: While some people might describe this situation as a coincidence or correlation for those with negligent lifestyle habits, studies have also found that streptococcus sanguis – a bacteria associated with gum disease – can spread to the heart and potentially trigger a stroke. It may also be present in fat deposits for those with atherosclerosis. Individuals without gum disease are less likely to have this bacteria present in the heart.
From here, inflammation can contribute to multiple changes in the heart and its system of arteries and veins, including:
- Arteries may harden, affecting the flow of blood to your brain. This increases risks for a stroke and atherosclerosis.
- Heart valves may become infected not long after bacteria enters the bloodstream through the gums.
However, this relationship is not absolute and may stem from a lifetime of inattentive health habits, including:
- Leading a sedentary lifestyle
- Poor dietary choices
- Skipping dentist and doctor appointments
- Diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol
In addition to heart issues, inflammation from gum disease may potentially manifest as a respiratory infection, rheumatoid arthritis or cancer.
Research has yet to find that brushing and flossing more frequently can decrease heart disease risks or manage the condition. Instead, you’re recommended to prevent inflammation from the source:
- Brush your teeth at least twice per day and floss at least once to reduce gingivitis risks. Make sure you brush for a minimum of two minutes per session and use a toothpaste enriched with fluoride, followed by mouthwash.
- Attend dental checkups at least twice a year to remove plaque and have your teeth thoroughly cleaned and examined.
- Stop tobacco use and limit alcohol.
- Watch your diet, limiting sugary and starchy foods.
- Know the early signs of gum disease and make a dentist appointment to address it.
If you’re interested in discussing gum health and ways to prevent periodontal disease, contact Smile Dental Center today.