Have Gum Disease, Will Travel… Possibly to your Heart

The mouth and the heart can be partners in crime when it comes to periodontal (gum) disease and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Research indicates that bacteria present in periodontal disease can travel throughout the body, possibly triggering inflammation in the heart’s vessels and infection in the heart’s valves.

Periodontal disease also can aggravate existing heart conditions. Patients at risk for infective endocarditis–an infection caused by bacteria that enter the bloodstream and settle in the heart lining, a heart valve or a blood vessel–may require antibiotics prior to dental procedures. If you have infective endocarditis and require dental surgery, your periodontist and cardiologist will be able to determine if your heart condition requires use of antibiotics prior to the procedures. Gone are the days when dental care and primary medical care lived separate lives.

What is Periodontal Disease?

Periodontal disease, mostly seen in adults, is mainly the result of infections and inflammation of the gums and bone that surround and support the teeth. In its early stage, called gingivitis, the gums can become swollen and red, and may bleed. In its more serious form, called periodontitis, the gums can pull away from the tooth, bone can be lost, and the teeth may loosen or even fall out. According to the CDC, half of American adults have periodontal disease.

What Are the Warning Signs of Periodontal Disease?

  • Bad breath or bad taste that won’t go away
  • Red or swollen gums
  • Tender or bleeding gums
  • Painful chewing
  • Loose teeth
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Gums that have pulled away from your teeth
  • Any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • Any change in the fit of partial dentures

What Increases the Risk for Periodontal Disease?

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Stress
  • Heredity
  • Crooked teeth
  • Underlying immuno-deficiencies—e.g., AIDS
  • Fillings that have become defective
  • Taking medications that cause dry mouth
  • Bridges that no longer fit properly
  • Female hormonal changes, such as with pregnancy or the use of oral contraceptives

What’s the Treatment?

Gingivitis can be controlled and treated with good oral hygiene and regular professional cleaning. More severe forms of periodontal disease can also be treated successfully but may require more extensive treatment. Such treatment might include deep cleaning of the tooth root surfaces below the gums, medications prescribed to take by mouth or placed directly under the gums, and sometimes corrective surgery.

Preventing and Controlling Periodontal Diseases

Don’t let periodontal disease gum up your heart too. Avoid it altogether by brushing and flossing every day to remove the bacteria that cause gum disease. The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste. Eat a well-balanced diet and quit smoking–smoking increases your risk of gum disease.

And, see a dentist at least once a year for checkups, or more frequently if you have any of the warning signs or risk factors mentioned above.

Remember, clean teeth and gums today can mean a healthy heart tomorrow.

Penn Medicine
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
American Heart Association
National Institute on Aging/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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