Is there a link between the health of my teeth and my heart?


By Dr. Stephen Durham

You probably already know that your oral health plays a big role in your overall health. However, like many people, you may not be aware of the link between poor oral hygiene and heart disease. One reason is that people with moderate to advanced gum disease have a much higher risk of developing a heart problem than someone whose gums are entirely healthy. This is a problem in itself, but it is even more worrisome that most people with gum disease do not even realize that they have it. According to the American Dental Association, this number is as high as 80 percent.

Your oral health provide clues about your heart health

It might seem hard to believe, but the condition of your teeth and gums can tell both your doctor and dentist that you are at risk of heart disease and other serious health problems. It does make sense, though, once you understand the connection. Every person’s mouth contains germs and bacteria that spreads from there to the bloodstream and to other parts of the body. Once these germs and bacteria reach your heart, they can attach themselves to any area already damaged and produce inflammation.

The Mayo Clinic states that inflammation of the heart can lead to a condition called endocarditis, which means an infection has developed in the heart’s inner lining. According to the American Heart Association, other possible diseases linked to oral bacteria include stroke and clogged arteries, formally known as atherosclerosis.

Patients who may be at risk

Men and women who already have advanced periodontal disease or chronic conditions of the gums like gingivitis have the highest risk of later developing heart disease. This is especially true when they do not receive a prompt diagnosis for these dental health conditions. Even without one of these oral health conditions, practicing poor oral hygiene increases your risk because plaque accumulates in your mouth and can travel to your bloodsteam. This can cause elevated C-reactive protein, a well-known marker for blood vessel inflammation.

Warning signs of gum disease

Not only can you possibly reverse gum disease when caught early, it can also dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease and other complications. Please contact my office for a prompt evaluation if you notice any of these symptoms:

Some of your teeth feel loose and you have no explanation for it;

Your gums appear red and/or swollen;

You feel pain when you touch your gums;

You have chronic bad breath, despite regular toothbrushing and use of mouthwash;

You notice blood on your toothbrush or in the sink after spitting when you brush your teeth;

Your gums look like they are pulling away from your teeth;

You notice signs of infection around your teeth and gums, such as leaking of pus.

Prevent Gum Disease to Prevent Heart Disease

It is much easier to prevent this problem than to treat it. That starts with brushing and flossing at least twice a day and scheduling preventive care exams twice a year. Your mouth, heart, and entire body will thank you for these efforts.

A recipient of the 2012 Mastership Award from the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), Dr. Stephen Durham is a graduate of Clemson University and the Medical University of South Carolina College of Dental Medicine. Dr. Durham practices at Durham Dental at Town Center in Beaufort. For more information, visit www.DrStephenDurham.com or call 843-379-5400.

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