Gum Disease and Heart Disease – Taking Care of Your Teeth May Save Your Life

You keep your cholesterol levels low. You don’t eat saturated fat. You take your blood pressure medicine, and you exercise several times every week. And you still get a heart attack.

heart-diseaseUntil about 15 years ago, doctors did not understand that whether or not arteries get clogged with cholesterol depends on the action of the immune system. And one of the factors that activates the immune system in ways that turn soft cholesterol into hardened plaques of cholesterol is gum disease.

Chronic gum infections cause chronic inflammation. And chronic inflammation causes heart disease. Here are five things everyone needs to know about the relationship between getting good dental care and maintaining a healthy heart.

    1. The worse the gum disease, the more likely the heart disease.

People who have bleeding gums have a slightly elevated risk of heart disease. People who have loose teeth have a significantly higher risk of heart disease. People who have boils and tonsillitis related to gingivitis have a much higher risk of heart disease.

    1. Gum disease seems to increase the production of clotting factors.

A myocardial infarction or an ischemic stroke follows the formation of a blood clot blocking blood flow. Gum disease is a worse risk factor for people who have uncontrolled clotting factors, and the people who have both gingivitis and heart disease are more likely to be treated with blood thinning medications.

    1. Infections of the mouth picked up during oral sex also elevate the risk of heart disease.

Chlamydia, the most common sexually transmitted disease in most of the Western world, affecting up to about 20 per cent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 30, is especially likely to add to the risk of heart disease.

    1. Smokers have added risk of heart disease when they don’t get regular dental checkups and cleanings.

Smoking adds to the inflammation caused by poorly controlled gingivitis.

    1. Gum infections increase your risk of heart disease, but they don’t make heart disease a sure thing.

The average person in Western countries has a lifetime risk of having a heart attack of about 1 in 2. Gum disease raises the chances to 2 in 3. If you get gum disease treated and you tend to your heart health, however, risk falls back to previous levels over the course of a few years.

Selected References:

Brown LJ, Brunelle JA, Kingman A. Periodontal status in the United States. J Dent Res. 1996;75:672-83.

D’Aiuto F, Parkar M, Andreou G, Brett PM, Ready D, Tonetti MS. Periodontitis and atherogenesis: causal association or simple coincidence? J Clin Periodontol. 2004;31(5):402-11.