The great debate about the influence of gum disease on the cardiovascular system has been volleyed back and forth between doctors and dentists for several decades. The frequency of heart disease and gum disease worldwide is becoming a cause for concern, so finding a major link could hold the key to controlling the pandemic of both. A solid link between the two would directly affect doctor’s approach to the prevention and healing of both.
The common denominator between both diseases is inflammation. Inflammation of the gums, known as gingivitis, is the first step in gum disease. Nearly 300 bacteria hang out in the subgingival area. As gingivitis thrives unchecked, pockets between them and tooth structures fill with monopolizing bacteria and pus, the infection we know as gum disease. From here, the infection spreads down into the blood stream via the gingival vessels. Streptococcus sanguis is a specific bacteria commonly found in stroke patients that originates in the mouth. Scientists have proven this leads to atherosclerosis, which is when arteries harden and restrict blood flow to the heart and brain. This restriction ups the risk of stroke or heart attack.
The American Dental Association has been a forerunner in studies on both diseases, as well as a catalyst in gathering data from studies done previously. In their report entitled Periodontal Infections and Cardiovascular Disease they reported many findings on the connection between gum and heart disease.
In one of these studies conducted in 1986, older theories of poor oral health plaguing stroke victims was highlighted. They eventually realized that substantial risk factors for both conditions may be the link. These risk factors included age, gender, tobacco use, diabetes, and lower socioeconomic status. Though this could have concluded that a caustic link didn’t exist, further studies proved otherwise.
Another study also recorded in the ADA’s report proved hands down that oral microbes and any related substances could get into the body via the gingiva’s easy access to the circulatory system. Simply chewing or brushing teeth induced endotoxemia (bacterial infection of the blood) and increased risk for periodontal disease. Additionally, samples found that common pathogens of periodontal nature showed up in arterial plaques samples.
Gum disease affects nearly 80% of U.S. population, so it’s important to know what to watch for. If you have red, painful or swollen gums, loose or separating teeth, gums that seem to pull away from teeth, or excessive bleeding during regular oral maintenance, it would be wise to consult your dentist. The sooner you detect a problem, the sooner it can be treated and other correlated issues can be avoided.
What does all this mean? In a nut shell, if you have one of these diseases, you should be aware that you are at risk for the other. Could brushing your teeth hinder heart disease and vice versa? Maybe not, but it doesn’t hurt to take care of your circulatory system with heart healthy foods and exercise, and your oral health with routine oral care and six month check-ups just to make sure.