Dental Plaque & Cardiovascular Diseases

Updated August 17, 2016

Your heart is one busy organ. It pumps your blood each and every day twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week without a break, ever! Even if we do not eat healthy and do not exercise regularly, our heart pumps our blood, making sure it gets to each pinkie toe clear up to our eyeballs! 

It seems like everything in the body is linked in some way; however, it may surprise you that teeth and the heart directly affect each other. If one has gum disease, it might be a sign of a heart issue. In fact, gum disease may even be the cause of heart issues under certain circumstances. 

Symptoms of Dental Plaque and Periodontal Disease

Dental Plaque and Cardiovascular Diseases

Image via Flickr by Dr PS Sahana * Kadamtala Howrah

In its early stages, gum disease is called gingivitis, and in its more severe stages, it is referred to as periodontal disease. Gum disease begins as a build up of plaque along the gum line, which becomes worse when people don't brush their teeth regularly or floss. This build up of plaque causes issues with the gums and, surprisingly, affects more than just the mouth. 

Sometimes gingivitis and periodontal disease are easy to spot. You may notice your teeth separating or becoming loose or your gums bleeding. Sometimes the symptoms aren't quite so obvious. Halitosis, a fancy name for bad breath; swollen, tender, or red gums; or minimally bleeding gums are also symptoms of gingivitis or periodontal disease.

Luckily, gum disease is fairly easy to reverse. Brushing and flossing regularly are the first steps and sometimes the only things necessary to reverse the early stages of gum disease. Unfortunately, more advanced stages of gum disease can result in bone loss. This gum disease eventually destroys the tooth and bones surrounding the teeth. 

It's not just poor oral health that causes gum disease and periodontal disease. There are other factors that contribute to these diseases. Hormonal changes, environmental factors, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular diseases, your diet, and genetics all play a role in the spread of gum disease and periodontal disease. 

The Mouth and Heart Connection

Although internal issues can cause gum disease, it might be surprising to learn that gum disease can cause internal issues as well. For example, periodontal disease is clearly linked to cardiovascular disease, although scientists aren't completely sure why.

One possible explanation is that toxins in the mouth travel from the teeth and the mouth to the heart through the blood stream. These toxins increase plaque in your heart's arteries. An increase in plaque and build up in the heart puts people at risk for cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks.

The mouth and heart connection is a two-way street. Scientists have discovered a link indicating that people with advanced gum disease are more likely to have heart disease as well. Similarly, researchers have found that a person's mouth often offers warning signs for issues in the body such as heart disease.

In some cases, it's difficult to tell which came first. Sometimes, one may have caused the other, and in other cases it could simply be a coincidence. 

Inflammation in the Body

Inflammation in the body is the body just doing its job when it believes there to be an injury. It is your body’s attempt at healing after you have suffered an injury or a foreign invader has attacked your system. Can you imagine if our immune system did not respond to an injury or invader? Without inflammation, the injury would turn into an infection with pus and a foul odor that could turn fatal. Inflammation is a good thing in the body even if it sometimes crosses its wires such as in autoimmune issues such as rheumatoid arthritis. Inflammation is characterized by swelling, warmth, redness, pain, fever, and immobility. It can be from a variety of causes and can develop into issues such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, depression, and cancer.  

It's also possible that there is a link between inflammation and gum disease. One explanation is that the toxins from your mouth travel to the liver. The liver responds by increasing the level of protein it releases, which causes inflammation. By reducing periodontal diseases, a person also reduces the chances of inflammation in the mouth and all throughout the body.

Inflammation can lead to heart disease, arthritis, and even some types of cancer. Similarly to the connection with heart diseases, inflammation in the body can also further periodontal diseases. 

Preventing Cardiovascular Diseases

Because of the link between cardiovascular disease and oral health, doctors recommend pre-treatments with antibiotics before certain dental procedures. If you've suffered from a heart attack, you should wait at least six months before having any major dental work completed. 

Because there is a direct correlation between gum disease and cardiovascular disease, it's important to speak with both doctors before having any major procedures done. Since gum disease is sometimes an indicator of other health issues, your dentist may have more insight into your health than you realize. 

It is important for you to speak with your medical doctor to make sure you do not have or are at risk for cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is genetic so if you have a family history of heart attack, congestive heart failure, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure, you need to get a full physical to see what your lab values are as well as what the strength of your heart is. Once this is determined, you can start on a heart healthy diet to reduce the amount of fat and sugar you are ingesting. You can also start on a cardiovascular exercise regimen to get into shape and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Precautions for Gum Disease and Heart Disease

Many of the factors that contribute to gum disease are also risk factors for heart disease. Smoking, diabetes, and poor nutrition all increase the chances for a person to experience both heart disease and gum disease. If you smoke, consider smoking cessation classes, acupuncture, or even hypnotherapy. Your doctor can also suggest smoking cessation methods. Chewing tobacco is also harmful to your mouth and your health, so it's important to take measures to quit smokeless tobacco as well.

Take your oral health seriously. Although it may seem annoying at first, make brushing your teeth after every meal part of your daily routine. Carry floss in your purse, the car, or briefcase so it's readily available after every meal. Visit your dentist at least once a year for a thorough exam and cleaning

It's important to take your oral health seriously, especially since it affects more than just your mouth. Make sure to schedule regular cleanings and check ups with your dentist so you stay on top of both your oral and heart health. 

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