Maintaining proper dental health and hygiene, especially gum health, may lead to more than a healthy, gleaming smile and manageable dental bills. Sound dental health may result in a healthy heart too. However, as emphasized by experts, the keyword here is may. Periodontists (dentists treating gum disease) and cardiologists have debated the connection between oral health and heart disease for a long time. But the issue is still not sorted out completely, as stated by Robert Bonow, MD, chief of cardiology at Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University and past president of American Heart Association.
Whether gum disease is actually directly linked to heart disease is not clear, according to Bonow. He added that threads of evidence exist in this regard, but they are not tied together yet. If people having poor oral health suffer from more heart attacks, it does not indicate that poor oral health is the cause of them.
People having sound oral health might just be following healthy habits. This means that people who brush and floss teeth might exercise regularly also and follow other habits healthy for the heart.
How could Oral Health and Heart Disease be Linked?
According to experts, there are several plausible reasons behind the connection between dental health and heart disease. For example, in both the diseases, inflammation makes a common problem, as stated by Bonow. Atherosclerosis or hardening of arteries consists of a strong element of inflammation. Most of the progression of plaque (that builds up in arteries) is an inflammatory process.
An inflammation component is present in gum disease too – states Sam Low, DDS, president of American Academy of Periodontology and associate dean at University of Florida College of Dentistry at Gainsville. Gingivitis – the initial stages of gum disease – develops when the gums become inflamed and the mouth is overtaken by bacteria.
Several theories have been proposed on the link between dental health and heart disease, which include:
- Bacteria that infect gums and cause periodontitis and gingivitis also reach blood vessels in other parts of the body where they induce blood vessel damage and inflammation. Tiny blood clots, stroke, and heart attack may follow. What supports this idea is that oral bacteria remnants have been found in atherosclerotic blood vessels that are quite distant from the mouth. However, treatment with antibiotics has not proven to be effective in lowering cardiovascular risk.
- Instead of bacteria leading to the problem, the immune response of the body – inflammation – is responsible for setting off vascular damage through the entire body, including the brain and heart.
- Cardiovascular disease and gum disease may not be directly connected. The reason behind their occurring together is that a 3rd factor exists (like smoking), which is a risk factor for both the conditions. Other potential factors include lack of exercise and poor healthcare facilities – people who don’t care for their overall health well or don’t have a health insurance have increased likelihood of having a poor dental health and heart disease.
A recent study can be referred to in this context. Data from about a million people who encountered over 65,000 cardiovascular events (which include heart attack) was analyzed by researchers, and they found that:
- After taking age into account, a moderate correlation existed between coronary heart disease and tooth loss (an indication of poor dental health).
- When smoking status was taken into account, the link between cardiovascular disease and tooth loss largely disappeared.
This study indicates that although there is an observed connection between oral health and heart disease, poor oral health is not a direct cause of cardiovascular disease. However, if this is true, there are other studies that we need to explain, which found a connection between oral hygiene and heart disease even after considering smoking as well as other types of cardiovascular risk factors.
Researchers have been pondering this connection for decades and the likelihood is low for a single study to provide a definitive answer. Hence, we need more studies to resolve the issue.
Whether the connection between oral health and heart disease is indirect, direct or a coincidence, a sound oral health and following healthy habits to maintain that (which include getting dental care at regular intervals and not smoking) can help you keep healthy teeth. This is a great reason for taking the necessary steps to make your dental health a priority. This will, perhaps, help support the health of other areas of your body too, including the heart, although much of this subject remains speculative.
Let’s wait for further studies to shed light on what is the association between dental health and cardiovascular disease. Until then, brush and floss well, and go for routine dental checkups to keep both your teeth and heart healthy.
Des Moines Dental Group in Iowa provides excellent dental care aimed at maintaining a sound oral health. Our dental hygienists can not only treat your dental issues, if any, but also empower you with information needed to take good care of your oral health. Book an appointment online or call at one of our dental offices at Airport and Urbandale today!