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The link between gum health and heart health

You’ve always heard that gum disease and heart health are linked, even though you may not understand exactly how. And, while there definitely seems to be a correlation, some scientists are not 100% on what causes it yet. Here is what we know.

The correlation could simply be overall wellness in general

Robert Bonow, MD and chief of cardiology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine says, “If it’s true that people with poor oral health have more heart attacks, it doesn’t mean the poor oral health leads to them. People with good oral hygiene may just be taking better care of themselves.” In essence, perhaps the link between oral and heart health is simply that people who brush and floss regularly just take better care of themselves. This does not mean that if you have poor oral health that you’re an unhealthy person! There are many factors that contribute to oral health such as genetics, diet, oral hygiene habits, etc.

Bacteria from the mouth can spread to other parts of the body

Our mouth is a gateway to the rest of our body, directly to our internal organs. Gingivitis, which is the beginning of gum disease, happens when the gums become inflamed and bacteria take over the mouth. These bacteria can travel from the mouth to the heart, causing inflammation and damage. This can turn into endocarditis, an infection of the lining of the heart.

Inflammation causes hardening of the arteries

When arteries harden and eventually become blocked, it’s due to a buildup of plaque. It’s not the same type of plaque as dental plaque though:

  • Dental plaque is a white film of bacteria that naturally builds up over time in the mouth and is removed with regular brushing up to a certain point. Eventually it hardens, necessitating removal by a dentist.
  • Arterial plaque is made of fat, calcium, cholesterol, and scar tissue, and builds up on the artery walls.

And although it’s not the same type of plaque, there is a correlation between the two. In fact, patients with gum disease have almost double the risk of having heart disease.

Warning signs of gum disease include:

  • Swollen, sore, and red gums
  • Gums that bleed when brushing, flossing, or eating
  • Pus or other signs of infection around the gums and teeth
  • Receding gums
  • Constant bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth
  • Loose teeth

Delta Dental has confirmed evidence of two links to gum and heart disease. The first, moderate or advanced gum disease presents a greater risk for heart disease. And the second, your oral health can exhibit warning signs for a wide variety of other conditions, including heart disease. If you’re concerned about your oral health, and want to reduce your risk for heart disease, contact Dr. Chauvin’s office to set up an appointment!