Researchers are finding possible links between periodontal (gum) infections and other diseases throughout the body. Current studies suggest that there may be a link between gum disease and cardiovascular disease. In fact, some research suggests that gum disease may be a more serious risk factor for heart disease than high blood pressure (hypertension), smoking, high cholesterol, gender and age. Studies suggest that people who have gum disease seem to be at a higher risk for heart attacks, although no one is certain how this relationship works. Your oral health affects your overall health, but studies that will find exactly why these problems are linked are still underway.
Gum Disease and Your Heart
The current theory is that bacteria present in infected gums can come loose and move throughout the body. The same bacteria that cause gum disease and irritate your gums might travel to your arteries. Researchers are unsure what causes the bacteria to become mobile, but it has been suggested that bacteria can be dislodged and enter the bloodstream during tasks as simple as brushing, flossing or even chewing.
Research shows that your risk of developing cardiovascular disease varies according to the severity of gum infection. The worse the infection, the more likely the bacteria are to become blood-borne. Infected gums bleed, making it easier for bacteria to enter your bloodstream. If bacteria become dislodged, the bacteria can enter through cuts or sores in your mouth and can travel to other parts of the body through your bloodstream.
If bacteria reach the arteries, they can irritate them in the same way that they irritate gum tissue. This could cause arterial plaque to accumulate, which can cause hardening of the arteries and decreased or blocked bloodflow. Compromised bloodflow to your heart can cause a heart attack. Also, arterial plaque can come loose and travel to other parts of the body. If a blockage occurs in the brain, it can cause a stroke.
Protect Your Heart
Keep your mouth healthy! Gum disease is a serious gum infection that should always be taken seriously. Although gum disease can often show few or no symptoms at all, watch for gums that are red and irritated or bleed easily. There are many new treatments available to control and help reverse gum disease.
Remember, gum disease is caused by plaque buildup. Brush and floss regularly to remove plaque that you can’t see below the gumline, and remember to schedule regular checkups. If you remove the plaque, you minimize the chance for getting gum disease. If you have any questions about your oral health, ask your dentist.
Updated: October 2008