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What's the Link Between Gum Disease and Heart Health?
Healthy gums, healthy heart? Some experts agree that the key to overall good health starts in your mouth, and they are not referring simply to your pearly whites. Good dental hygiene has long been touted as paramount in maintaining good health. Dentists recommend brushing teeth at least 2 if not 3 times a day and a strict regimen of flossing daily, as well. On the surface, this is understandable. No one wants to be caught with food between their teeth or bad breath.
However, beneath the cosmetic surface lie the most important reasons for maintaining a healthy mouth. While some experts debate whether there is a direct link between gum disease and heart disease - many agree the two have enough in common to warrant attention and that problems in the mouth can be indicative of and even contribute to underlying health issues in the rest of the body. The mouth is a source of bacteria, which can cause health concerns throughout the body under some circumstances.
In short, research and other medical studies have shown:
- Cuts in the gums can allow bacteria that gather in the mouth to enter the bloodstream. This can lead to infection in other parts of the body, which is especially problematic if your immune system is weak or you have existing heart valve issues.
- Periodontitis may be indicative of cardiovascular disease (stroke, blocked arteries, heart disease), possibly associated with oral bacteria and chronic inflammation periodontitis causes.
- People who have diabetes already have compromised immune systems unable to adequately fight infection. Elevated sugar levels may increase risks of frequent and serious infections in the mouth, damaging gums and bones and causing tooth loss. Osteoporosis may be linked to periodontal bone and tooth loss. Losing teeth before the age of 35 years could possibly be a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease.
- Bacteria found in gum disease have also been found in plaque that clogs arteries, and also in vessels experiencing arteriosclerosis.
- Those with gum disease may be more likely to experience strokes.
- Inflammation found in gum disease increases the amount of protein in the body and may indicate inflammation in other areas of the body. These particular proteins are those used to measure a person's risk for heart attack. When these protein levels rise, they could indicate a person's increased probability of a heart attack.
While the connection between gum disease and heart problems is not definitive and continues to be explored, experts agree that the same bacteria and inflammation found in gum disease are also found within underlying heart conditions. All agree that it is important for people of all ages to practice good oral hygiene.
Seniors, who as they age become more at risk for developing heart problems and other arterial conditions, should take particular care of their mouths and gums. Discuss with them common links between gum disease and heart problems. Encourage regular dental check-ups for early detection of gum disease and seek further medical evaluation if gum disease is found. Explain how following an easy routine of brushing twice and flossing at least once daily can prevent complications such as tooth loss, periodontal disease, infection and more. Remind them to replace toothbrushes every three months. Following these simple steps can make a big difference in the quality of a senior's overall health.
- Mayo Clinic. Oral health: a window to your overall health. Retrieved on December 10, 2011, from mayoclinic.com/health/dental/DE00001.
- Doheny, Kathleen. Healthy teeth, healthy heart? Retrieved on December 11, 2011, from webmd.com/oral-health/features/healthy-teeth-healthy-heart.
- Johns Hopkins Health Alert (2011). Gum disease and heart disease: what's the link? Retrieved on December 11, 2011, from johnshopkinshealthalerts.com/alerts/heart_health/gum-disease_5843-1.html?ET=johnshopkins:e63915:1259471a:&st=email&s=EHH_111014_001.