As a child, you probably heard about the importance of brushing in order to protect the health of your teeth and gums. After all, according to mom, eating too much sugar without taking the time to brush every morning and night was the best way to ensure that all of your teeth would fall out by the time you were 40. While the importance of brushing and floss daily cannot be understated, taking the time to practice quality oral hygiene may actually help to protect another part of the body as well- your heart.
For the last century, doctors and dentist alike have suspected a link between the health of a person’s teeth and their risk of developing heart disease. While doctors have long suspected a connection, it has only been with in the last 20 years that health professionals have started taking the link between oral and heart health seriously.
Those in the medical community who believe in this connection point to a link between periodontal disease (the most serious form of gum disease) and atherosclerosis, an advanced form of heart disease that causes fatty deposits to build-up along the artery walls. Atherosclerosis is more commonly referred to as hardened arteries.
Despite the support this theory has developing in recent years, the evidence supporting the link has been viewed as controversial in the past. In an effort to reach a consensus, the American Heart Association elected to review the current research last year to see what the data would reveal.
According to the conclusions reached by the AHA, while the link between periodontal disease and atherosclerosis was considered “biologically plausible,” no evidenced directed linked to two disease together. Further more, the AHA review concluded that no evidence suggested that treating gum disease would have any effect on improving an existing heart condition.
While the lack of any direct evidence may seem to remove any doubt about any potential links between the two types of disease, the AHA panel did find gaps in how science understands how heart disease and gum disease interact. Because science still doesn’t have a clear answer, the AHA has called for further research into the topic.
A Possible Explanation
Proponents of a connection between gum disease and heart disease point to the old adage that the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence when it explaining the AHA’s recent finding. However, individuals on both sides of the debate agree that further study is needed on the two primary theories behind how gum disease could contribute to coronary heart disease.
The first theory states that the bacteria, which grows in the mouth and causes a build-up of plaque, can enter the bloodstream when a person’s gums begin to bleed, a common occurrence to individuals with gum disease. Once introduced to the blood stream, this bacteria attach themselves to fatty deposits that have begun to accumulate in the coronary arteries. This can eventually lead to inflammation, which in turn may cause blood clots to form that decrease blood flow to the heart, resulting in heart attack.
Proponents of this theory point to the presence of mouth bacteria that research has found in fatty plaque deposits.
The other theory hypothesizes that these same mouth bacteria cause the body to create antibodies that attack cell receptors that line blood vessels, causing an inflammatory reaction to occur. Inflammation could play a role in the development of additional fatty deposits, causing further blockage of blood flow to the heart.
Preventing Gum Disease
Until research finally determines what links exist between heart disease and gum disease, you should make sure to take precautions to protect your gums from disease. The best way to maintain your oral health is by practice quality oral hygiene, which includes:
- Brushing at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste
- Flossing at least once a day
- Quitting Smoking
- Scheduling regular checkups and cleanings with Dr. Magelsen
If you have any questions about the connection between your oral health and heart health, feel free to ask Monroe dentist Dr. Travis Magelsen during your next appointment.