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The Link Between Gum Disease and Heart Disease

written by: Harry Sylvester • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 10/13/2010

Gum disease and heart disease are slightly correlated with each other. Can gum disease cause heart disease? Learn about the relationship between plaque on the teeth and the narrowing of coronary arteries in the heart.

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    What are Periodontal Disease and Heart Disease?

    Periodontal (gum) disease is a bacterial infection of the gums, bone and attachment fibers that support the teeth which can result in tooth loss. Gum disease can result from dental plaque, a sticky substance containing bacteria and acid, which can irritate the gums. Dental plaque will lead to the development of tartar (calculus) if you do not have it removed. Infection and inflammation might occur due to tartar below the gum line.

    Heart disease or coronary artery disease (CAD) is a condition where plaque accumulates inside the coronary arteries, blood vessels on the heart. The condition is referred to as atherosclerosis. Plaque in the coronary arteries contains cholesterol and fatty materials which can decrease blood flow to the heart muscle. It eventually results in a severe blockage of blood flow due to blood clots. The heart is deprived of oxygen without enough blood flow from the coronary arteries, causing a heart attack.

    Keep in mind that dental plaque is totally different with plaque in the coronary arteries.

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    How is Periodontal Disease Related to Heart Disease?

    It is interesting to discuss how gum disease is associated with heart disease. Researchers have revealed that gum disease bacteria can flow into the bloodstream, sticking to plaque in the coronary arteries. This condition accounts for blood clots and ultimately leads to heart disease, as oxygen deprivation in the heart may occur due to obstruction of blood flow.

    Researchers are convinced that gum disease might cause inflammation in the form of swelling. Gum disease bacteria might go through your body, but your body responds to them by activating the immune system. Inflammation occurs soon, leading to the narrowing of the coronary arteries.

    One study published in the Journal of Periodontology explains that periodontal disease might cause oral bacteria, such as endotoxins, to flow into the bloodstream, stimulating the liver to release C-reactive proteins in response to either infections or inflammation. These proteins can definitely boost heart disease risk. Further, the study exposes that the mouth can generate toxic bacterial products in the bloodstream while ingesting or chewing something.

    With that said, gum disease and heart disease are slightly correlated with each other, but researchers cannot prove periodontal disease would result in heart disease. Despite this, gum disease can aggravate heart disease. Even though early symptoms of heart disease are unnoticeable at times, you may never feel that you have problems with your heart, but if you have bleeding or swollen gums, you should be cautious.

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    How Can You Keep Periodontal Disease at Bay?

    Maintaining oral hygiene is highly recommended. The following are several useful tips to help prevent this disease:

    • Brush your teeth twice a day by using fluoride toothpaste.
    • Try to choose a soft or medium bristle toothbrush.
    • Use a circular motion while brushing your teeth.
    • Use antiseptic mouthwash.
    • Floss at least once a day.
    • Consume a healthy diet to help combat infections and inflammation.
    • Have regular dental check ups.