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The Link Between Heart Disease and Oral Health

Heart Disease and Oral HealthImage courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Did you know paying close attention to your dental health and hygiene can directly impact the rest of your body? Though this theory makes sense, it is also surprisingly difficult to prove. There are multiple mouth and body connections and tracking all the mechanisms gets tricky. However, after decades of research science is finally beginning to unravel the complexities. There is one connection in particular researchers have particular interest in; the link between the health of your mouth and the condition of your heart. Read on to find out why having your “heart in your throat,” might be more than just a simple expression.

Say Ahhh!

Physicians and dentists can tell a lot about your overall well-being by looking at the condition of your mouth. It can relay information about acid reflux, eating disorders, infections and more. However, the mouth not only reveals secrets about what is going on throughout the rest of your body, but also the health of your mouth can directly impact your health. Are you taking care of your teeth? If not, it could impact so much more than just your teeth.

The Problem With Periodontal Infection (Gum Disease)

People walk around with serious infections in their mouths all the time. In fact, Dr.  Susan Karabin, a New York periodontist says that gum disease often equates in size to the palms of both your hands. “If you had an infection that size on your thigh, you’d be hospitalized.” But few people pay attention to gum disease or any infection in their mouths for that matter. Why is that? Often it is because they are unaware of how serious these diseases can be.

Two Types of Plaque

To make the heart and mouth connection more clear, take a look at these two types of plaque.

1. Tooth Plaque

The plaque on your teeth is a sticky biofilm made up of saliva, bacteria, acid and food particles. It readily collects along the gumline causing irritation and an immune response. In the early stages gums swell, bleed and look redder. Then, if left alone for too long, the condition worsens. Pockets along the gumline deepen, bone and connective tissue starts to dissolve and teeth shift or fall out of place. Infection travels deeper and gains direct access to the bloodstream.

2. Arterial Plaque

The plaque that deposits on the inner walls of the arteries is mostly made up of fats and other substances. They build up and cause blockages that could lead to heart attack or stroke. The interesting note however is many species of bacteria that contribute to gum disease have been found in heart plaque.

Why Is Gum Disease Linked to Heart Disease

Again, the exact relationship is difficult to determine, but because scientists found the same bacteria in both types of plaque they have come up with two main theories. These are:

First Theory: Sticky Tooth Plaque Makes Sticky Heart Plaque
Bacteria colonize in the mouth and form a web-like barrier with extracellular DNA. This sticky biofilm protects the bacteria and keeps them anchored in place. This same bacteria enter the bloodstream through the gums. From there the same principle applies and the bacteria adhere to the fatty plaques that contribute to blockages in the arteries.

Second Theory: Bacteria Causes an Inflammatory Response

This theory capitalizes on the idea that bacteria in the mouth produce acids and cause an inflammatory response in both the gums and the arteries. The main difference is gum inflammation leads to gums pulling away from teeth whereas arterial inflammation constricts the passageways and reduces blood flow.

What Can You Do to Protect Your Heart?

Though there is still a question about the exact relationship, there certainly is a proven link between gum disease and heart disease. It doesn’t particularly matter, which comes first as far as cause and effect, it matters that you understand how important oral health is for overall health. If you have been putting off your visit to the dentist, now is the time to get back in the chair.