Gum Disease and Heart Disease
Four out of 5 people in the U.S. have gum disease or periodontal disease. It’s caused by the buildup of bacteria in the mouth. Gingivitis is a mild form. Periodontitis is more severe; it can damage the bone and eventually even cause tooth loss.
Does gum disease cause heart disease? Studies show that people with gum disease are almost twice as likely to have coronary artery disease. Of course, these studies do not prove that periodontal disease is a direct cause of heart disease. It may be that people who don’t take good care of their teeth have poor lifestyle habits in general, which leads to an increased risk of heart disease.
But some experts believe that bacteria from the mouth could get into the blood and contribute to blocked arteries. These bacteria might also trigger inflammation throughout the body. When the arteries swell, they become narrower and prone to clogging.
If you’re at risk for heart disease, it’s wise to play it safe. Here’s how:
Recognize the signs of gum problems
What should you watch for?
- Swollen, red, painful, or bleeding gums
- Receding gums — which will make your teeth look longer than they used to
- Sensitive or loose teeth
- Painful chewing
- Chronic bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth
If you have any of these symptoms, don’t ignore them. Schedule an appointment with a dentist or periodontist to get them checked out.
The toothbrush is one of the best weapons we have against gum disease. It helps clear plaque, a sticky combination of bacteria, acids, and bits of food. But a lot of us don’t brush well. We might skip some days. Our technique might be rusty. (Is it up and down? Circular? Neither?) Or in a misguided attempt at thoroughness, we scrub our teeth as if we’re refinishing furniture. That can tear up your gums, worsening gum disease.
Flossing gets rid of the bacteria and plaque between the teeth, where brushes can’t reach. While it’s important for gum health, flossing is one of those things that many of us know we should do, but don’t. One survey found that only about half of Americans floss daily.
If you don’t floss every day, it’s time to join the other half. Again, ask your dentist or hygienist for tips. Be gentle — vigorously sawing at your gums will make things worse. If you have trouble holding the floss correctly, a simple device called a floss holder might help.
Use an antiseptic mouthwash
If you have a problem with a bacterial build-up in your mouth, rinsing with an antiseptic mouthwash daily will help. It helps kill bacteria that cause gum disease and bad breath.
Get your teeth cleaned at least every six months
Regular dental cleanings and checkups are crucial for everybody — and especially for people at risk of heart disease. Cleanings will keep plaque and tartar under control. If you do wind up developing gum disease, your dentist will catch it early.
Generally, experts recommend dental cleanings twice a year. Some people need them more often. Ask your dentist or hygienist what he or she recommends.
If you don’t smoke, great. But if you do, it’s time to make an attempt — or another attempt — at quitting. You probably know that smoking is bad for your heart. You might not know that smoking is one of the top causes of gum disease; smoking can also make existing gum disease worse.
Ask about antibiotics before surgery
Build a medical team
We once considered heart health and dental health as relatively unrelated. We know better now. The body is a single organism, after all. If you have heart disease, ideally your dentist or periodontist should work directly with your cardiologist. Think of them as members of your medical team. If you can collaborate with them and develop a treatment plan, you’re bound to be healthier — in more ways than you might expect.