Take it to Heart: Oral Health is Important

Heart disease has been the leading cause of death in the U.S. since 1921, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which estimated that nearly 1.24 million people – or 141 every hour  and 2.35 every minute – suffered a new or recurrent heart attack in 2010.1 Valentine’s Day – a holiday commonly associated with the heart – seems like the perfect time to point out the connection between oral health and heart health.

Researchers continue to find associations between periodontal (gum) disease and other chronic health conditions including heart disease. Persons with periodontal disease and heart disease share common risk factors such as smoking, older age, low-income status and obesity. Ongoing studies are attempting to determine questions such as if you treat the gum disease will you lower the likelihood of developing or worsening heart disease?

A mix of conditions, behaviors and genetics including high cholesterol and blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and a combination of poor diet and insufficient exercise leading to obesity have helped keep coronary ailments king. Genetics likely has some role in high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other heart disease factors. Odds are that an individual you know and love has dealt with some kind of heart ailment in their lifetime.

Studies show that people with periodontal (gum) disease may be at a higher risk for coronary artery disease (CAD), the most common type of heart disease, than those without it. Researchers are now trying to determine if bacteria and inflammation in the gum tissues as a result of periodontal disease contribute to the clogging of arteries and lead to CAD. 2 

So, for your heart’s sake practice sound dental hygiene habits like brushing and flossing teeth twice daily and eating healthfully. In particular, don’t smoke cigarettes or use other tobacco products. Finally, make time for regular dental check-ups. It is an oft-neglected, but vital aspect of maintaining good oral health. Like most diseases, periodontal disease is much easier to treat and control if discovered early.

Your dentist and hygienist play a major role in detecting and treating any gum problems. Based on what they see in your mouth, they may also suggest you see your physician to evaluate you for other important health problems including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Roger V, Go, A, Lloyd-Jones, D, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2011 update. a report from the American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee Circulation 2011;123:e1-e192.

2“Gum Disease Links to Heart Disease and Stroke.”American Academy of Periodontology, May 8, 2008. www.perio.org/consumer/mbc.heart.htm Accessed 2010.

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