Periodontal disease, also called gum disease, is an oral health condition that causes gums to become inflamed and infected.
At its mildest stage, gums may look red and swollen, and they may bleed during brushing. However, as it progresses, gum disease can cause gums to pull back from the teeth, exposing tooth roots and causing loose teeth.
Gum disease is a leading cause of tooth loss . But many people don’t realize that their gum health is intimately linked to their heart health. How can this be?
People with Gum Disease Have an Increased Risk of Serious Cardiovascular Events
The plaque that builds up in your arteries and causes heart disease is different from the plaque that accumulates on your teeth. Yet, research shows there is a connection between these two health conditions—people with gum disease have two to three times the risk of having a serious cardiovascular event, including a heart attack or stroke, than those with healthy gum tissue .
Although a direct link between gum disease and heart disease hasn’t been established, researchers believe that gum disease may tax the body’s immune system via chronic inflammation. Inflammation can also result from other risk factors, such as smoking and an unhealthy diet. It’s possible the health of your gums may just be an indicator for the health of your heart.
Gum Disease May Increase Risk for Heart Valve Problems
People with artificial heart valves may be especially vulnerable to the gum disease and heart disease connection. Research shows that bacteria involved in gum disease can get into the bloodstream and travel to the heart . When this happens, an infection can result, which can be life-threatening.
This connection is particularly imperative for patients that have a heart valve surgery scheduled. Patients who need this surgery should ideally be free of gum disease prior to the surgery to reduce the risk of postoperative complications.
Periodontal Disease Severity May Influence Heart Disease Severity
Gum disease is a progressive condition, meaning without treatment, it will get worse. Research shows that the severity of periodontal disease may influence how severe heart disease is. So, the more bacteria present in your oral cavity from gum disease, the more plaque you may have in your arteries .
Although there is no evidence yet indicating that periodontal disease treatment improves heart disease, what we do know is that there is a link between oral health and bodily health. So adopting healthy habits such as taking care of your teeth and gums, eating healthy, and exercising may improve your overall wellbeing!
Don’t Ignore the Signs of Gum Disease
If you have red, swollen gum tissue, chronic bad breath, or bleeding gums when brushing your teeth, you may have gum disease. Follow up with your dentist to see if you could have periodontal disease and how you can treat it to improve your oral health—and potentially your heart.