It is well known that oral health is directly connected to the overall health of the body. Evidence suggests that poor oral health can both contribute to, and be caused by, many medical conditions – including high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease. According to the CDC, heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, killing over 650,000 people each year. Studies have shown that poor oral health and heart disease are related, but how much of a contributing factor is it? The benefits of good oral hygiene cannot be denied, and it makes sense that keeping your mouth healthy can contribute to your overall health. But how it helps lessen your risk of cardiovascular disease specifically is definitely worth exploring in more depth.
How is dental health related to heart health?
There are three prevalent theories related to the link between oral health and the risk of heart disease. The first and most prevalent believes that the same bacteria that cause gum disease can also enter the bloodstream and travel to distant parts of the body. It can lead to inflammation which puts one at an increased risk of a variety of problems, such as blood clots, stroke, and heart attack. Evidence that supports this theory includes the fact that oral bacteria have been found within blood vessels located far away from the mouth.
Others believe that it’s not bacteria causing the problem, but the body’s immune response. Any immune response can cause inflammation throughout the body that can result in vascular damage. Whenever there is damage to the cardiovascular system, there is a good chance that will affect the heart. There are also those that believe there is no direct connection between periodontal disease and heart disease. Some researchers believe that it is some other factor that links the two, such as smoking, a lack of exercise, or poor healthcare access. All of these can be risk factors for both oral health and heart disease, so it is difficult to pinpoint the links between the diseases.
Can a tooth infection spread to your heart?
Poor oral health can lead to infections of your teeth, tooth roots, and gums. Infections in your mouth, even ones that do not cause pain, can spread bacteria throughout all bodily systems, including your cardiovascular system. In fact, The American Heart Association published a scientific statement early in 2021 stating that good dental health may prevent a particular bacterial infection of the heart, also known as bacterial or infective endocarditis. In rare cases, the bacteria present in plaque buildup that causes gum inflammation and gum disease can settle in the lining of the heart or blood vessels during certain dental procedures. The risk of infective endocarditis is highest among those that have had surgery on the heart valves or those with congenital heart disease. Usually, these patients are given antibiotics to take before regular dental procedures. However, it’s been discovered that the risk of developing IE is greatly reduced if the teeth and gums are healthy to begin with.
What kind of health problems can bad teeth cause?
There are many studies that have proven a link between poor oral health and other diseases. Bacteria from the mouth and the resulting inflammation can contribute to chronic health problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes. It may also cause an increased risk is suffering from emergency conditions such as a stroke or heart attack. It can also affect the brain, contributing to dementia and cause respiratory infections, kidney disease, and even cancer.
If you have ongoing problems with your teeth or have signs of periodontal disease, both your dentist and your doctor are invaluable resources to tap for information. Be sure to pay attention to any medical advice they give on how to reduce your risk of complications. Your dentist always says that you can keep gum disease, tooth loss, and other problems at bay by being sure to brush your teeth twice a day and making sure you floss regularly. After all, prevention is key!
Is it worth the risk?
While the connection between gum disease and cardiovascular disease is not 100% proven, making the effort to practice good oral hygiene certainly won’t hurt anything. You can do your research. There are plenty of studies and articles about periodontal disease and heart health. The American Heart Association and the American Dental Association are both great resources for a variety of medical articles on all kinds of health topics.
A good oral care routine takes only 15 minutes a day. That 15 minutes you spend brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing, and take care of your mouth pays dividends for years down the road. There is a lot we can’t control when it comes to our health so we may as well control what we can. Keeping our teeth and gums healthy, visiting the dentist for regular cleanings, and getting treatment for any problems early on will support ongoing good health throughout our bodies. That’s why it’s best to take good care of our oral health! Schedule your appointment today so we can help you stay on top of it.