Cardiovascular disease is responsible for 600,000 deaths in America each year – making it the leading killer for both men and women. In fact, 1 in 4 deaths in the U.S. are the result of heart disease. While these are frightening statistics, there is an upside: cardiovascular disease is somewhat preventable. You’ve probably learned how maintaining a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise are critical to preventing heart disease, but what many people don’t realize is that keeping your oral health in check may also help increase your cardiovascular health.
Gums: Your First Line of Bodily Defense
If you have a build-up of plaque in your mouth, it can lead to gum disease (or periodontal disease). Gum disease starts off as gingivitis; your gums may be red or tender, or your gums may bleed when you’re brushing or flossing. Research has demonstrated that people with gum disease may be more susceptible to heart disease. The question is – why?
The mouth is basically an open gateway to the rest of your body. If you have a build-up of bacteria in your gums, it can end up your bloodstream and lead to clotting. Those clots decrease bloodflow to the heart, increasing blood pressure and potentially leading to a heart attack. It’s also worth noting, the bacteria that cause gum disease have been found in the plaque that builds up inside the arteries of those impacted by heart disease.
Another possible connection between gum disease and heart health is an increase in C-reactive protein, which can cause inflammation in your bloodstream, leading to the same risk of clotting. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, treatment of inflamed teeth and gums can reduce inflammation throughout the body, leading to a boost in overall health and a reduced need to regulate blood pressure through medication.
That being said, the links between oral health and cardiovascular health aren’t crystal clear. In 2012, the American Heart Association noted that while a review of current data doesn’t necessarily support that good oral health can lead to an improvement in your heart condition, there is an as-yet-unexplained link between gum disease and other serious health issues. Keep in mind, many of the things that can cause gum disease are also risk factors for heart problems, such as age, fitness, poor nutrition, diabetes and smoking. At the very least, trying to improve upon these conditions should lower your overall risk of both gum and heart disease.
Your Mouth is a Window into Your Overall Health
Even if the line between cardiovascular and periodontal disease isn’t absolutely rigid, a glimpse into your mouth can tell your dentist many things about your overall health. Approximately 90% of diseases will manifest themselves through some sort of oral health symptom. If you have a history of heart disease, be sure to let your dentist know so they can keep an eye out for inflammation or infections that may signal other issues are building up.