Did you know that your oral health is a reflection of your overall health? Studies have shown that oral health can provide warning signs for other diseases or conditions, including heart disease. Research has hinted at the possibilities of heart disease and periodontal disease being related. Scientists believe that inflammation caused by periodontal disease may be responsible for the connection. Not only are they linked, but periodontal disease can also make prior heart conditions worse. Your dentist will have some suggestions for you in determining if you may be at risk for gum and heart disease.
Are you at risk?
Many of the risk factors for gum disease are the same as those for heart disease, such as tobacco use, poor nutrition and diabetes. Actually, people who have chronic gum disease have a higher risk of getting a heart attack, according to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD). Gum disease is caused by plaque buildup along and below the gum line, and may contribute to heart disease. This happens because bacteria from infected gums can dislodge, enter the bloodstream, get attached to blood vessels, and increase clot formation. It has also been suggested that inflammation caused by gum disease may also trigger clot formation. Clots decrease blood flow to the heart, thereby causing an elevation in blood pressure, and increasing the risk of a heart attack.
Research shows that many systemic diseases, including heart disease, have oral symptoms. Dentists can help their patients who have a history of heart disease by examining them for any signs of oral pain, infection, or inflammation. According to the AGD, proper diagnosis and treatment of tooth and gum infections in some of these patients have led to a decrease in blood pressure medications and improved overall health. If you currently have heart disease, make sure to tell your dentist about your condition as well as any medications you are currently taking.
Gum disease affects 80% of American adults, and often the condition goes undiagnosed. Warning signs that you may have gum disease include:
- Red, tender or swollen gums;
- Bleeding gums while brushing or flossing;
- Gums that seem to be pulling away from your teeth;
- Chronic bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth;
- Teeth that are loose or separating from each other.
The best way to be proactive in maintaining your oral health is to schedule regular dental checkups, get professional cleanings and, of course, regular brushing and flossing. Genetically speaking, some people are more likely to have periodontal and gum disease than others.If it runs in your family, you should be especially vigilant. Get any symptoms checked out right away.
The different stages and conditions of gum disease that may be related to heart disease are as follows:
- The early stage of gum disease develops when bacteria builds up in the gaps between the gums and teeth. Symptoms may be mild, but you might notice some redness, swelling or bleeding. The only treatments you usually need are improved brushing and flossing habits.
- The more advanced stage of gum disease is when the infection has gone deeper. The bacteria releases toxins, in which the surrounding tissues swell, and infected pockets form between the teeth and gums. Over time, the infection can damage the bone beneath the gums, causing the gums to recede from the teeth.
- When wisdom teeth only partly push up through the gums, they create an opening for food or plaque to lodge under a flap of gum around the tooth. The tissue becomes swollen, painful and infected. This is called pericoronitis, and if it is severe, the swelling can move to the cheeks and neck.
- Cavities are caused by a different bacteria than the ones that cause gum disease. They can still, however, play a big role. For instance, if you have a cavity that irritates the gum, it can lead to gingivitis or periodontitis.
Tips to Prevent Gum Disease
Brush your teeth twice a day, of course. Bad brushing techniques can actually make gum disease worse. If you brush too hard from side to side, you can miss the pockets of plaque, and actually irritate or tear the gums. Instead, make circular motions with your toothbrush, which help the bristles clear out any food particles in the gaps between the gums and teeth.
Floss at least once a day. Use antiseptic mouthwash and toothpaste, if your dentist recommends it. Eat healthy foods. Don’t smoke. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, smoking may be one of the most significant risk factors for periodontal disease. Check in with your dentist or dental hygienist, and get regular checkups and cleanings. Most people should have a checkup every six months, but some people may need more frequent visits.