It is no secret that bacteria and plaque damage the teeth and gums if not consistently removed. But did you know that oral plaque can wreak havoc on the heart as well? There is an established link between periodontal disease and cardiovascular health problems. In fact, periodontal disease is an independent risk factor in predicting a serious cardiovascular event. Fortunately, proactively managing periodontal disease cuts down the risk of bacteria-related heart problems.
There is a strong correlation between cardiovascular disease and gum disease. The problem begins when oral plaque (bacteria) builds up around the teeth and gums. Consistent brushing and flossing are important in preventing bacteria build-up. However, individuals susceptible to gum disease may still experience an intensified reaction to inflammation-causing plaque unless they seek more involved periodontal maintenance treatment.
The reason that inflammation may damage not only oral structures but also cardiovascular health is that inflammation causes gum swelling and periodontal “pockets.” A “pocket” refers to the space between the teeth and gums deeper than three millimeters. Inflammation causes the gums to loosen and detach from the root, deepening the pocket and allowing bacteria easy access to the bloodstream. Bacteria enter the bloodstream with such ease because that bacteria has eroded the epithelial wall of the pocket, allowing access to the capillaries and connective tissue.
Acids, inflammatory mediators (toxins), and bacteria pass through the pocket wall, to the bloodstream, and to the heart, causing a condition called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a buildup of plaque (different from oral plaque) and fatty acids on the artery wall, and is a central contributor to cardiovascular disease. These acids and toxins are released into the bloodstream through so-called “bacterial showers” every time we chew. Individuals with diseased gums experience acute bacterial showers because of the ease with which bacteria enters the bloodstream through inflamed gums.
The reason that bacteria passes so easily from the mouth to the bloodstream is that gums are quite vascular (filled with blood). Moreover, the mouth is full of bacteria. Gum disease damages the gum epithelium, and even a slight disruption facilitates bacteria’s entry into the bloodstream. This, in turn, exacerbates inflammation throughout the body, including the heart. The presence of a particular type of bacteria found in periodontal disease, Streptococcus sanguinis, is a risk factor for stroke. At the same time, individuals without periodontal disease possess less of this type of bacteria in the heart.
To help ensure the health of your entire body, lookout for signs of gum disease. Such indicators include red, swollen, or tender gums, bleeding gums when flossing, a bad taste in the mouth, persistent bad breath, mobile teeth, pus around the gum line, and/or receding gums. If you notice any of these symptoms, it is important to seek professional advice to either (1) rule out gum disease or (2) start a treatment plan. Ignoring your periodontal disease won’t make it disappear. In fact, turning a blind eye to gum disease will damage not only your oral health but also your heart health. But by seeking treatment upon signs of gum disease, you may prevent systemic health issues for years to come.