Did you know that your heart health and your oral health are related? It’s true: People with certain oral health problems can be at a higher risk for heart problems. Also, your dentist might detect issues that can indicate that you should have your heart checked. Since many Americans have gingivitis or gum disease and since heart disease is a leading cause of death in both men and women, it makes sense to understand the potential connection between oral health and heart health.
The Bacteria Connection
The major issue that affects both gum health and heart health has to do with bacteria. The same type of bacteria that can cause the symptoms of gingivitis can also cause inflammation that could lead to stroke or clogged arteries. Also, it’s possible for bacteria to travel through the blood stream and cause an infection around the heart called endocarditis. The latter problem is more of an issue for patients who have certain heart problems, have had a heart transplant, or have a history of previous endocarditis, and this can be mitigated by having those patients take antibiotics before dental work.
For people who do not have heart problems currently, it’s still important to watch for signs of gingivitis, which is the first stage of gum disease. These symptoms can include red, swollen gums and bleeding while brushing or flossing. Your dental hygienist can measure the pockets in your gums to see if they are large enough to allow for bacteria to build up. The best way to prevent gum disease (and any associated heart problems) is to brush twice daily, floss once per day, and see your dentist for regular cleanings. If you do develop symptoms of gingivitis in between dental appointments, make a prompt appointment to get it evaluated and treated.
The Lifestyle Connection
Other factors that can affect both the gums and your heart are lifestyle choices, particularly smoking and eating unhealthy foods. Smoking can cause both gum disease and heart disease, and it’s always in your best interest to quit. Once you quit smoking, your risk factors go down significantly, so it’s never too late to stop smoking. Talk to your dentist or your doctor about ways to quit the habit. If you’re snacking frequently on unhealthy foods, particularly those with a lot of sugar, you could be increasing your risks of both oral health problems and heart problems. This is another behavior that you can curb, potentially with the help of your doctor or a nutritionist.
Regardless of your heart history, it’s important to take care of your teeth and gums. Call us to schedule an appointment if you are due for one or if you need some help with your oral hygiene regimen. We can help you develop a plan to get your gums healthy and to help you boost your overall health.
Creative Commons image by Tetsumo.