Medical scientists are exploring a possible connection between healthy gums and healthy arteries. It turns out that taking care of your choppers just might be good for your ticker – and vice versa.
When Gum Health Falters
Your mouth is host to over 700 different species of bacteria. While you need many of these bacteria, some can be harmful. Healthy gums provide a barrier that prevents these harmful bacteria from entering your system.
Almost half of adults aged 30 and older have some form of periodontal disease (gum disease). Gum disease starts as gingivitis, a buildup of bacterial plaque on teeth that can lead to swollen gums. Gingivitis can be reversed simply by adopting good oral hygiene.
Chronic gingivitis can turn into a more serious condition called periodontitis, in which the swollen gums recede and expose more of the teeth to bacterial infection. Symptoms of periodontitis may include:
- Increased sensitivity
- Pain while chewing
- Sores inside of the mouth
- Bad breath or taste
- Receding gums
- Loose teeth
Periodontitis can be serious because the bacterial infection can damage the soft tissue and bones in your teeth. These bacteria can also enter the bloodstream and travel around your body.
The Connection of Your Gums to Your Heart
Data show that patients with gum disease can be two to three times more likely to suffer from cardiovascular illness (heart disease). Both gum disease and heart disease share risk factors like obesity, smoking, and diabetes. This means that smokers, for example, are more likely to have both conditions. As such, it’s not as simple as drawing a cause-and-effect relationship between gum and heart health.
Can bacteria travel from infected gums to your heart via the bloodstream? Yes, bacteria from a gum infection can enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body. In fact, small amounts of bacteria regularly hitchhike around your body through your circulatory system. In a healthy system, these bacteria typically don’t present a problem.
When you have a long-term infection like periodontitis, this introduces higher levels of bacteria to your bloodstream over sustained periods of time. One study established higher concentrations of mouth-associated bacteria in the hearts of patients who were concurrently suffering from periodontitis.
These types of findings do not suggest that if you develop gum disease, you are guaranteed to subsequently get heart disease. It’s not a relationship of direct causation. Scientists are looking for systemic conditions between the gum and heart disease – such as chronic inflammation — that might explain a link based on your body’s overall defense mechanisms.
Chronic Inflammation and Your Health
Current theories about the correlation between gum disease and heart disease suggest the possibility that gum disease may have some type of contributory relationship with heart disease – i.e. the existence of one condition may increase the likelihood or severity of the other.
When your body detects higher levels of bacteria in a certain part of your body – a possible infection — it sends reinforcements to fight them off. Temporary Inflammation (increased blood flow to that area) is a healthy part of an immune response.
However, chronic inflammation – swelling that does not go away over time – can be harmful. At the cellular level, your body’s immune responses use powerful “weapons” to stop invaders like bacteria. If this heightened response goes on for long periods of time, these same “weapons” can start to damage your own tissue.
Chronic inflammation is the most common symptom of periodontitis (the long-term red swelling of the gums). Chronic inflammation is also associated with heart conditions such as atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
When your body is managing multiple sources of inflammation at the same time, this may place greater demands on your body’s overall defense mechanisms and contribute to knock-on effects. Simply put, chronic inflammation in one part of the body might be related to chronic inflammation in other parts of the body.
Chronic inflammation is increasingly connected with a range of health problems, including cancer, diabetes, and arthritis. Reducing chronic inflammation in the body – including periodontitis – is a sensible goal for anyone’s health. It also helps reduce pain.
So it’s not a stretch to say that keeping your gums healthy may actually help you keep the rest of your body healthy.
Should I Worry About My Gums and Heart?
The foregoing discussion does not change the standard recipe for good health: good diet, regular exercise, avoidance of unhealthy habits, and regular checkups. In the case of your teeth and gums, your daily brushing and flossing regimen is a life-long commitment to good health.
The gum disease and heart disease connection do underscore two things:
- First, all of your bodily functions are connected. A problem with your oral health is not independent of the rest of your body.
- Second, certain populations are at higher risk for both gum disease and heart disease. While some of this is can be attributed to heredity, it is more about living a healthy lifestyle. So, if you’re not taking care of your oral hygiene, it’s a good time to take a step back and evaluate whether you are taking care of the rest of your health, including your heart.
Checkups Keep You Healthy
Gio Dental is a Dentist Medford that can answer all of your questions about maintaining optimal oral health. Call us at (781) 777-1812 to learn more.