Connecting Your Heart and Oral Health

Recognizing American Heart Month, February 2011

Many Americans keep their hearts healthy by exercising regularly and carefully watching their diets—eating in moderation those foods with sugar, starch, grease or fat. These are great lifestyle habits, but to maintain a healthy heart it’s also important to take care of your oral health.

Medical professionals have identified a link between coronary heart disease and periodontal disease— an infection in the structures around the teeth. In fact, they believe that individuals with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to experience coronary heart disease and strokes.

Heart Disease and Plaque

When you brush or floss your teeth, do your gums bleed? This may be an early sign that your gums are infected with bacteria from the plaque on your teeth. If left untreated, the infection may spread and destroy the roots and gums that support your teeth. Eventually, they may need to be extracted.

Medical professionals describe coronary heart disease as a thickening of the walls of the coronary arteries from a buildup of fatty proteins. When oral bacteria enter the bloodstream, they attach to the fatty plaque and contribute to clot formation, which can obstruct the normal flow of blood to the heart.

Other likely causes of periodontal disease have been identified by researchers:

  • Genetics – up to 30 percent of Americans may have a genetic trait that could increase their chances for developing periodontal disease
  • Smoking and tobacco use – smoking increases the risk of periodontal disease; smokers tend to collect thick plaque on their teeth, increasing the amount of bacteria in the mouth and the likelihood of gum disease
  • Crowded teeth, braces or bridgework – these obstructions in the mouth make it more difficult to brush and floss all of the tooth surfaces, enhancing the formation of plaque and the development of gum disease
  • Diseases – individuals with certain diseases, including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and HIV infection, are at risk for developing periodontal disease
  • Medications – some medicines cause dry mouth and reduce the amount of saliva, which naturally rinses out of the mouth food particles that contribute to plaque; other medicines may cause the gums to enlarge, trapping plaque against tooth surfaces

What steps do you take to care for your heart and oral health? If you have been diagnosed with periodontal disease, what advice would you share with others? – Ken VanCleave, Ameritas Group

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