Every forty seconds, an American could die of a stroke, and it shouldn’t be a surprise. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease continues to reign as the #1 cause of death in The United States of America. However, while many are aware of the two common causes of heart disease – obesity and type II diabetes – there is one other cause that is unfamiliar to society: periodontal disease.
According to the CDC, periodontal diseases are the primary cause of infections and inflammation of the gums and bones that revolves around, and support, our teeth. Studies have shown that people who have periodontal disease are twice as likely to contract heart disease than patients who already have high cholesterol, and according to Dr. Gregg, “more than 85 million Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease (CVD). But more than 200 million American adults have some form of periodontal disease” . One possible cause behind the link between this disease and heart disease is bacteria. According to Shmerling, “the bacteria that infect the gums and cause gingivitis and periodontitis travel to blood vessels elsewhere in the body where they cause blood vessel inflammation and damage”  Tiny blood clots, heart attack, and stroke may follow. Similarly, Dr. Gregg notes that “bacteria found in the infected gum tissue around teeth break down the barrier between the gums and the underlying connective tissue, causing inflammation” , which is the body’s natural immune response, as Shmerling claims. “During normal chewing or brushing, bacteria can enter the bloodstream and move to other parts of the circulatory system, contributing to the formation of cardiovascular disease” . While there is no direct connection between gum disease and cardiovascular disease, the only reason both conditions could occur simultaneously is when there is another factor, like smoking, which can cause both conditions to develop . In addition to cardiovascular disease, however, studies have also proven that “periodontal disease could also be linked to rheumatoid disease and pancreatic cancer” .
So, how can we know if we have contracted periodontal disease? According to Gregg, multiple signs could convey the contraction of the disease:
- Red, swollen, or tender gums or other pain in the mouth
- Bleeding while brushing, flossing, or eating hard food
- Gums that are receding or pulling away from the teeth, causing the teeth to look longer than before
- Loose or separating teeth
- Pus between the gums and teeth
- Sores in the mouth
- Persistent bad breath
- A change in the way teeth fit together when one bites down
- A change in the fit of partial dentures
Other signs include an absence of our gum looking “pink in color and tight to the teeth. If these qualities are not observed, there is a chance gum disease may be present” . Now, for the big question: how do we tackle this disease? Gregg states that there are many ways to tackle periodontal disease including flap surgery, soft-tissue grafts, bone grafting, guided tissue regeneration, and the application of enamel matrix derivative. Unfortunately, many patients with periodontal disease would hesitate to try, or even consider these methods due to fear or misunderstandings. Getting rid of the infection by sealing the pocket is an excruciatingly painful procedure. Thankfully, many general dentists and periodontists offer a patient-friendly, less-invasive laser procedure – the LANAP protocol – as another option for an effective treatment that can help alleviate patient fear . Furthermore, “brushing and flossing every day, and visiting your local dentist – minimally twice a year – can help prevent periodontal disease.
Every part of our body plays an important role. Whether they seem trivial or significant, they can be linked to one another, in some way, just as our oral health can be linked to our cardiovascular health. And so, treating ourselves well, and taking care of our body – both physically and mentally – are always key to living a happy and long life. Never take anything for granted.
1. The Surprising Link between Periodontal Disease and Heart Health: What ... https://www.dentistryiq.com/dentistry/article/16366436/the-surprising-link-between-periodontal-disease-and-heart-health-what-dental-professionals-need-to-know.
2. Robert H. Shmerling, MD. “Gum Disease and the Connection to Heart Disease.” Harvard Health, 22 Apr. 2021, https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/gum-disease-and-the-connection-to-heart-disease.
3. “The Surprising Link to Heart Disease.” ISmile Dental Care, 7 Apr. 2022, https://www.ismileva.com/surprising-link-heart-disease/.
Author: Georgia Sukendro
Editor: Terin Buckley
Health Scientist: Rayven Hall