The well-known risks for heart disease include smoking, obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Now evidence suggests that having gum disease puts you at greater risk for cardiovascular (heart) disease.
The bacterial infection that causes periodontal disease also may affect the heart. In fact, all other conditions being equal, people with periodontal disease may have twice the risk of having a fatal heart attack as people that don't have periodontal disease. By taking care of your periodontal health, you can prevent or help control one of the risk factors for heart disease.
Although the exact mechanism of infection has not been determined, it is possible that the bacteria that cause periodontal disease enter the blood stream directly through the gum tissue. This can be precipitated by normal oral activities, such as brushing and chewing, that create tiny injuries in the gum and then release bacteria into the blood stream.
The bacteria can contribute to small blood clots that clog the arteries. There also is the possibility that the inflammation caused by periodontal disease contributes to the build-up of fatty deposits inside the heart arteries and the formation of blood clots. These clots can obstruct the normal blood flow, restricting the amount of nutrients and oxygen to the heart and resulting in a heart attack.
Oral bacteria can also travel to the heart and cause an infection of the lining or valves of the heart called infective endocarditis. People with a history of rheumatic heart disease, mitral valve prolapse with regurgitation, or heart murmur associated with various heart conditions are at greater risk of developing infective endocarditis and may require antibiotic treatment before dental procedures that may induce bleeding.
These procedures include oral surgery, tooth extraction, and routine cleanings. The best way to avoid infective endocarditis is by maintaining good oral health. But if you have any of the conditions that put you at greater risk for infective endocarditis, consult your cardiologist and dentist before starting any dental treatment.
Treatment of periodontal disease may be one of the ways you can help prevent heart disease and a heart attack. With meticulous oral hygiene, daily brushing and flossing, professional cleanings, and periodontal screenings, you may help save your teeth and your life.
By Laura Minsk, DMD