The health of your mouth may be a clue into the health of another part of your body—your heart. Ongoing studies have shown possible links between periodontal (gum) disease and heart disease.1 Some researchers have found that people with gum disease are about two times more likely to have coronary artery disease.1 In the U.S., heart disease is the leading cause of death, with coronary artery disease being the most common type of heart disease.2 Other studies suggest a relationship between gum disease and stroke.1 So with the majority of American adults believed to have some stage of gum disease,3 the topic of a possible connection between the two diseases is a hot one.
Gum disease is an infection of the tissues that surround and support teeth. It is caused by a sticky film of bacteria called plaque, which forms on the teeth.4 In its early stages, called gingivitis, gum disease can be treated and reversed. But because gum disease usually causes no pain, you may not be aware that you suffer from it.4 In the later stages of gum disease, called periodontitis, serious damage can occur to the gums and bones supporting the teeth, leading to loose teeth and even lost teeth.4
Several theories may explain the connection between gum disease and heart disease. One theory is that bacteria in the mouth may affect the heart when they enter the bloodstream.1 Once in the blood, the bacteria may attach to fatty plaques in the heart’s blood vessels. This could contribute to clot formation, which in turn may lead to a heart attack.1 Another theory points to the inflammation associated with periodontitis as a possible culprit.1 It also may be that people with heart disease and people with periodontal disease share similar risk factors like smoking, diabetes, poor diet, and lack of attention to overall healthy habits.
Research continues in an effort to pinpoint the exact connection between gum disease and heart disease.5 In the meantime, taking care of your teeth and gums may be even more important for maintaining your overall health.5
Here are some tips to help you prevent gum disease:3
Brush your teeth gently, at least twice a day, with special attention to the gum line.
Floss at least once a day.
Have regular dental checkups and cleanings.
Eat a healthy diet and don’t use tobacco.
1 “Gum Disease and Heart Disease, Stroke.” American Academy of Periodontology. www.perio.org/consumer/heart_disease Accessed 2016.
2 “Strong Men Put Their Heart Health First.” CDC Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, February 14, 2016. www.cdc.gov/features/heartmonth/ Accessed 2016.
3 “Periodontal (Gum) Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments.” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, September 2013. www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/GumDiseases/PeriodontalGumDisease.htm Accessed 2016.
4 “Gum Disease.” MouthHeathly, American Dental Association. www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/g/gum-disease Accessed 2016.
5 “Healthy Mouth, Healthy Body.” Prepared by the ADA Division of Communication, in cooperation with The Journal of the American Dental Association and the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs, April 2006, vol. 13. www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Publications/Files/patient_61.ashx Accessed 2016.