Dental Care: Are Your Gums Placing You At Risk For Heart Disease?

Gingivitis (gum disease) and the advanced stage, periodontitis, is one of the most common infections of the mouth and occurs more often than the common cold. Symptoms include bleeding gums or pus between the teeth, destroying the bone that supports the teeth leading to tooth loss. Research identified the accumulation of gum disease as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Early warning signs of heart disease are less obvious than those that indicate that there is a problem with the gums. Now, doctors have to manage the disease with the hope of reducing the risk that might occur in the other.

Any time there is bleeding in the mouth, bacteria can enter the bloodstream and travel to the heart. The bacterium that causes gum disease is associated with heart disease. The common risk factor in both cardiovascular and periodontal disease is inflammation. While the formation of blood clots is an important defense against cuts and bruises it become a serious problem if it occurs in the heart.

How Does Bacteria Affect The Heart?
The theory is that bacteria in the gums have the ability to travel throughout the body. Once the bacterium enters the bloodstream, it sticks to the inside of the arteries in the heart. This may lead to irritation as the body’s defense system tries to protect the area through the use of cholesterol (as a scab or plaque). The result is that the artery becomes narrowed as a “scab” forms. Sometimes the scab closes the blood flow to the heart, which generates pain in the chest as the heart struggles to get enough oxygen to keep beating. In some cases, the plaque will flake off and shut off the blood flow to the heart. If this happens inside the muscle of the heart, a heart attack will occur. In fact, it has been learned that the degree of gum disease is a better predictor of a heart attack than cholesterol levels.

What Can You Do?
The threat of periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease is serious. If in doubt,

  • Visit a periodontist and a full mouth periodontal evaluation, including X-rays for the detection of periodontal disease. If you have a family history of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes you should consider selecting a periodontist as their primary care dentist. To increase the likelihood of early diagnosis, the visit is crucial because patients are often asked about any heart conditions and family history.
  • Periodontal disease can be easily avoided by brushing and cleaning between teeth with floss or toothpicks. However, brushing and flossing alone cannot cure periodontitis and it is very difficult to stop once it starts and is usually painless. The first sign of periodontal disease is bleeding gums, the last sign of periodontal disease is no teeth.
  • Make regular visits to your dentist to help reduce your risk of periodontitis. Proper dental care includes many heart-healthy recommendations, such as smoking cessation and a healthy diet. Good dental hygiene is essential to achieve and maintain optimal health.
  • Due to a procedure approved by the FDA using the LANAP (Laser Assisted New Attachment Procedure), which is an alternative to traditional surgery of the gum. The laser eliminates harmful bacteria and diseased tissue in the gum by a laser light that passes between the gums and teeth. Patients do not hear or feel it – except for a little heat. The LANAP reduces pain and recovery time associated with traditional surgery of the gum.

Brushing teeth is a good reason to help reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. With heart disease being identified as the number one killer of people in the world, claiming upward of 17 million people each year. The usual culprits share responsibility: smoking, obesity and high cholesterol levels are not only the most obvious risks, but now gum disease has been added as a risk factor to consider. It seems now that no matter if you are in shape or appear to be healthy, gum disease can affect your overall health more than you know.

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