Is There A Link Between Oral Health & Heart Disease?
The heart and mouth don’t have much in common; that’s what most people think. However, they may actually be closely linked based on increasing evidence. For instance, heart valve infection and heart vessel inflammation can be triggered by the bacteria present in the mouth when they travel throughout the body.
That being said, this post dives into the link between oral health and heart disease.
Can Poor Oral Health Cause Heart Problems?
As mentioned, the spread of germs like bacteria from the mouth to other body parts through the bloodstream is what connects oral health and heart disease. These bacteria attach themselves to a damaged area in the heart, causing inflammation when they reach it. This can result in diseases such as endocarditis, or the infection of the heart’s inner lining.
Also linked to oral bacteria-caused inflammation are cardiovascular conditions such as stroke and atherosclerosis, or clogged arteries.
Inflammation In The Blood Vessels Of The Heart
Inflammation that can precede sudden vascular events, strokes, and heart attacks have been linked to gum disease. Still, the exact cause-and-effect relationship’s nature is still unclear for the time being.
Although there can be many different reasons and sources for inflammation in the blood vessels of the heart, for people suffering from heart disease, gum disease-caused inflammation can add to that process. When high cholesterol gets added to the mix, the risk becomes even greater.
In atherosclerosis, or plaque buildup in the arteries, the fatty deposits of individuals suffering from the illness contain oral bacteria as uncovered by several pieces of research. Those deposits can break loose and clog the arteries or at least narrow them, causing stroke, heart attack, or cardiac arrest due to one of the Hs and Ts when untreated.
Heart Valve Infection
When gum disease is present, the ones particularly at risk are people who have heart valve disease.
When you have gum disease, the bacteria living in your mouth can cross into the bloodstream, enter your heart, and infect the vulnerable heart valves directly. Note that the effects can be more serious in patients with artificial heart valves.
Immediate attention should be given by a cardiologist with BLS certification to bloodstream infections, especially the ones that affect the heart’s valves.
Who’s At Risk?
Patients who have the highest risk for developing heart disease due to undiagnosed or unmanaged poor oral health are those with advanced periodontal disease, gingivitis, and other chronic gum conditions.
Again, your risk for cardiovascular disease increases when gum infection-associated bacteria in the mouth enter the bloodstream and attach to the blood vessels. Note that your risk for gum disease is still there even if there’s no noticeable inflammation in your gum as long as your oral hygiene is inadequate and plaque, also known as biofilm, has accumulated.
When bacteria migrate into your bloodstream, C-reactive protein becomes elevated. C-reactive protein is a marker for any inflammation in the blood vessels. Such elevation can increase an individual’s risk of stroke and heart disease.
What Are The Symptoms And Warning Signs?
Even if your gum disease is still in its early stages, the following symptoms may be present:
- Gums bleed when flossing, brushing, or even just eating.
- Gums are sore to touch, red, and swollen.
- Gums look as if they’re pulling away from your teeth.
- You see signs of infection like pus around the teeth and gums.
- Some teeth are loose or you feel as if they’re moving away from each other.
- Bad taste in the mouth and frequent bad breath.
Reducing The Risk
It’s straightforward to prevent and treat mild gum disease or gingivitis. As part of the long-term preventive care, it’s important to undergo regular dental cleanings whether or not you have heart disease. A good routine for your oral hygiene includes brushing and flossing twice or thrice a day. Of course, seeing your dentist for an evaluation and cleaning at least every six months is also important.
If you haven’t visited a dentist in a while, you can do a brief self-examination in front of a mirror. There are a few noticeable warning signs, such as the ones listed above. Take note that many of the symptoms actually don’t become extensive until the advanced stages.
Indeed, there’s a link between your oral health and heart disease. In fact, there are two specific links according to recent evidence:
- First is the higher risk for developing heart disease in someone with moderate or advanced-stage gum disease than in an individual with healthy gums.
- Second is the warning signs that your oral health can provide to physicians for a range of illnesses and conditions, such as those in the heart.
However, the higher risk to the heart should become less, if not return to normal, once oral health is properly managed.
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