Doctors and dentists have long known of a link between oral health and overall physical health. After all, the mouth is part of the body, and any infection in the body can lead to trouble in other areas of the body, or even systemic infections. Today, research shows that oral health i is strongly linked to heart health in particular. With more than 80 percent of Americans living with gum disease, which is often undiagnosed and untreated, this link is particularly disturbing. Here is what you need to know.

Photograph of an older man having dental work done at the dentist.

The Link

Although more research needs to be done to conclusively prove the source of the link, it appears that bacteria are to blame. Bacteria in the mouth can travel through the blood stream to other areas of the body. If they make it to the heart, it is easy for them to attach and cause inflammation. Some cases of endocarditis (an infection of the heart’s lining), clogged arteries, and even stroke have been traced to oral bacteria that spread.

Who Is at Risk?

The highest risk is to patients with gingivitis or advanced gum disease, particularly if they are not under a dentist’s care. It is easy for the bacteria associated with gum infections to enter the bloodstream. However, even those without gum disease may be at risk due to accumulated plaque or tartar, which gives oral bacteria a place to breed. Some people with oral bacteria in the bloodstream show elevated C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation in the blood vessels that can lead to stroke or heart disease.

Symptoms of Gum Disease

Early stage gum disease does not cause noticeable signs, but if you do notice any of these symptoms, see your dentist as soon as possible:

  • Redness, swelling, or soreness in the gums
  • Gums that bleed when brushing, flossing, or eating hard foods
  • Pus in the mouth
  • Receding gums that cause the teeth to appear longer
  • Chronic bad breath or bad taste in your mouth
  • Loose or shifting teeth

Preventing Gum Disease

Your best protection against gum disease, as well as the accumulated plaque and tartar that can also raise your risk for heart disease, is a strong oral hygiene regimen. Brush twice per day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and an American Dental Association (ADA) approved toothpaste, taking care to brush each quadrant of your mouth for 30 seconds. Floss at least once per day and visit your dentist twice per year for a professional cleaning and dental exam.

Protecting your oral health is vital to protecting your heart health. Making sure to keep your teeth and gums healthy and bacteria-free is a simple way to care for both your smile and your heart. Even late-stage gum disease may be reversible with prompt care, so it is never too late to get started on a healthier you.

At Family Dental Care of Bellevue, we are committed to providing quality dental care to our patients and their families. We are proud to have been voted one of the best dental offices in Washington State. If you are ready to take the first steps toward improving your dental health, we invite you to call 425-643-5778 today to make an appointment for your initial consultation.

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