Don’t Toss the Floss: Gum Disease and Its Possible Link to Heart Disease and Other Diseases

By: Dr. Elizabeth Eggert

It has long been concluded that people with poor oral health have higher rates of cardiovascular disease than people with good oral health. Many studies have been done to this end, specifically looking at gum disease and its effect on the heart. Let’s take a look at the various facets of this phenomenon.

What is gum disease?

Also known as periodontal disease, gum disease is an inflammation of the gum tissue. Left untreated, gum disease can cause a breakdown of the tissue and bone surrounding the teeth and lead to eventual tooth loss.

Symptoms of gum disease include persistent bad breath, inflamed gums, receding gums, extremely sensitive teeth, pain when chewing and loose teeth or changes in your bite.

What is heart disease?

Heart disease or cardiovascular disease is a narrowing or blockage of blood vessels. Advanced heart disease can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Symptoms of heart disease can include chest pain, fatigue, lightheadedness, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, impaired thinking or confusion and edema.

What’s the connection?

While the two conditions may seem unrelated, a 2010 article in PubMed Central, a biomedical and life sciences journal, found that gum disease increases a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease by 20%.

A 2014 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine also acknowledges this connection. They discovered that people with both heart disease and gum disease, when receiving proper care for gum disease, incurred 10-40% lower cardiovascular care costs than people with untreated gum disease.

After these and a vast number of additional studies over the past two decades, both the American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Heart Association (AHA) acknowledge that a relationship between these two conditions certainly exists.

Theories

So what is the nature of this connection? There are a number of theories. Here are a few of the most common ones:

  • Bacteria in the oral cavity travels to the blood vessels and eventually leads to narrowing and blockage.
  • Inflammation, as opposed to bacteria, is the culprit. It sets off an inflammatory reaction throughout the body.
  • There is no direct connection. The association is the result of a third factor such as smoking, lack of healthcare access, lack of exercise etc.

So is the connection a matter of association or causation? Much more research is needed to make this determination. Either way, however, gum disease must be taken seriously. By itself, it can have detrimental effects on your oral health and in one way or another, often leads to cardiovascular disease, resulting in strokes, heart attacks and even death.

How can I prevent gum disease?

There are a number of ways to protect yourself from the negative effects of gum disease.

  • Brush regularly. See our recent post on breaking bad brushing habits here!
  • Floss at least once a day.
  • Drink fluoride-containing water and use mouthwash regularly.
  • Avoid smoking, vaping and tobacco.
  • Manage diabetes for healthy blood sugar levels.
  • Visit our dental team for regular checkups.
  • Enjoy a diet low in sugar and high in vegetables, fiber and plant-based proteins.
  • Watch for early signs of gum disease and see us at Eggert Family Dentistry if you experience any symptoms.

If you’re concerned about the negative effects of gum disease on your oral health and overall health, Dr. Elizabeth or Dr. Jeff would love to meet with you! You can make an appointment at Eggert Family Dentistry by calling us at 651.482.8412.

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