Gingivitis (gum disease), and the advanced stage, periodontitis, is one of the most common infections of the mouth and more prevalent than the common cold. The symptoms include bleeding gums or pus between the teeth. If left untreated it destroys the bone that supports the teeth which leads to tooth loss.  Accumulating research has identified gum disease as a risk factor in cardiovascular disease. The early warning signs of heart disease are less obvious than those that indicate there is a problem with your gum’s. Now, doctors have to manage one disease in hopes of reducing the risk that could occur in the other.

Any time there is bleeding in the mouth; bacteria can enter the bloodstream and travel to the heart.  The bacteria that causes gum disease is the same associated with heart disease.  The common risk factor in both cardiovascular and periodontal disease is inflammation. While the formation of blood clots is an important defense against cuts and bruises, it can also be a serious problem in the cardiovascular system.

How Exactly Does Bacteria Affect The Heart?

The theory is that bacteria present in the gums can travel throughout the body.  Once the bacterium enters the bloodstream, it sticks to the inside of the arteries in the heart. It may lead to some irritation, the body as a defense will try to protect the area by using cholesterol (like a scab or plaque). The result is the artery becomes narrowed as a ‘scab’ forms. Sometimes the scab closes off the blood flow to the heart which creates chest pain as the heart struggles to receive enough oxygen to keep beating.

In some cases, the scab or plaque may flake off and instantly shut down the blood flow to the heart. If this happens inside the muscle of the heart, a heart attack will occur. In fact, the degree of gum disease is a better predictor of a heart attack than the levels of cholesterol.

What Can You Do?

The threat of periodontal and cardiovascular disease is serious. If in doubt,

  • Visit a periodontist and obtain a full mouth periodontal evaluation, including X-rays, to screen for periodontal disease. If you have a family history of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes you should consider selecting a periodontist as your primary care dentist. To increase your chances of an early diagnosis, this visit is crucial because patients are routinely asked about heart conditions and family history
  • Periodontal disease may be prevented easily by brushing, and by cleaning between the teeth with floss or thin toothpicks.  However, brushing and flossing alone cannot cure periodontitis which is very difficult to stop once it starts and is usually painless. The first sign of periodontal disease is bleeding gum’s. The last sign of periodontal disease is no teeth.
  • Make regular visits to your dental professional to help lower your risk of periodontitis. Proper dental care includes many heart-healthy recommendations, such as smoking cessation and a healthy diet.  Good dental hygiene is vital to achieving and maintaining optimal health.
  • Due to an FDA approved procedure using the LANAP (Laser Assisted New Attachment Procedure) which is an alternative to traditional gum surgery. It removes harmful bacteria and diseased tissue from the gum pocket by passing a laser light between the gum and tooth. Patients don’t hear or feel it – except for a little warmth. The LANAP greatly reduces the pain and recovery time associated with traditional gum surgery.

Brushing your teeth is a good reason to help decrease the risk of heart attacks and strokes. With heart disease being identified as the number one killer worldwide, claiming upward of 17 million people every year. The usual culprits, smoking, obesity and high levels of cholesterol are no longer the only risks, now gum disease has been added to the list. It appears now that it doesn’t matter if you are fit, trim or appear to be healthy, but if you have gum disease, it may affect your overall health more than you know.

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