Medical professionals have long agreed that there's a very real correlation between a person's dental health and the body's overall health. In fact, gum disease in particular has been linked to a number of health concerns including diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. Yet, it's estimated that by age 65, nearly a quarter of adults will suffer from gum disease. Thus, it's essential to be aware of the health risks associated with gum disease, otherwise known as periodontal disease. Let's consider the relationship between gum disease and cardiovascular disease below.
What is Gum Disease?
Gum disease is caused by plaque building up in the space between the teeth and the gums. Although it's a common oral health problem, many adults are unaware of what gum disease entails. In its earliest stage, gum disease is known as gingivitis and typically presents as red, inflamed gums that bleed easily. When detected and treated at this stage, gum disease is reversible.
If gum disease is allowed to progress, however, it can develop into periodontitis. Untreated periodontitis often leads to tooth loss, as the gums and structures that support the teeth are seriously damaged. In fact, gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss among adults.
What's the connection between gum disease and heart disease?
Cardiologists, periodontists, and other health experts have not yet conclusively determined the link between periodontal disease and heart disease, although most experts agree that there appears to be a connection. One plausible link between oral health and heart health appears to be inflammation. Specifically, inflammation is a major component in both heart disease-- when plaque builds up in the arteries-- and gum disease. In the beginning stages of gum disease, the gums become inflamed, a process that allows bacteria to take over the mouth. Additional findings also seem to point to a connection between the two diseases:
- Studies show that gum disease is a risk factor for coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease.
- Additional studies have found that patients with tooth loss and gum disease have a higher risk of stroke than their counterparts with healthy teeth and gums.
- There also appears to be a correlation between gum disease and clogged arteries in the legs, strengthening the argument that inflammation is the link between heart health and oral health.
While there does appear to be a connection between periodontal disease and heart disease, it's important to note that treating one doesn't necessarily mean that you're preventing the other. Instead, patients should consider taking the following precautions:
- Make a doctor's appointment. For patients with severe gum disease and additional risks for heart disease-- including a strong family history or smoking, for example-- it's worthwhile to make an appointment with the primary physician for a physical.
- Visit the dentist regularly. Everyone should visit the dentist for preventive care every 6 months. This is particularly important for patients with heart disease who have symptoms of gum disease. Remember: in its earliest stages, gum disease is reversible.
- Practice preventive care at home. At-home care is no substitute for professional check-ups and cleanings by a dentist, but it's still an important component of the prevention process. Whether you're at risk for periodontal disease, heart disease, or neither, you should brush your teeth twice a day, floss daily, and consider rinsing with an antiseptic mouthwash.
Taking care of your oral health is about so much more than having a glowing, white smile. In fact, it's a vital component of your body's overall health and well-being. If you're ready to take the first step toward achieving a healthy mouth and body, contact us today. We look forward to hearing from you!