How Dental Health and Heart Disease Are Linked

Alan Reisinger, Author
By A. Alan Reisinger, III, MD, FACP
January 31, 2022

A 2020 study found that periodontal disease influences the development of atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque along the walls of your arteries. Learn more in this short video with Dr. Alan Reisinger.

When you’re at the dentist, do you ever think about your heart? You probably should. If you have gum disease, it could be affecting other parts of your body, including your heart.

Although the link between disease in your mouth and disease of your heart has been hard for researchers to nail down, it does exist. A 2020 study found that periodontal disease influences the development of atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque along the walls of your arteries. People with gum or periodontal disease have a higher risk for heart disease.

How great is this risk? One study found that individuals with gum disease were 49 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those without. Periodontal disease, which is usually caused by poor habits, is a common infection that leads to swollen, red and tender gums. Over time it can cause tooth loss. And it can be contagious, potentially infecting your close contacts as well!

But how can an infection in your mouth increase your risk for heart disease? Researchers have found several possible reasons, including bacterial invasion from the mouth into the bloodstream and inflammatory substances produced by the bacteria. When the body fights the bacteria that cause gum disease, it raises inflammation throughout the body – and systemic inflammation can increase your risk for a host of problems including type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, psoriasis and respiratory infections.

Studies have observed a systematic increase in C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation, in patients with periodontal disease. Inflammation can affect your arteries and, in certain circumstances, lead to heart attack or stroke.

So does periodontal disease cause heart disease? Currently, most research shows only an association between the two. In fact, some researchers suggest that the link may exist due more to poor lifestyle choices like poor diet and smoking (which affects oral and heart health) than to any potential cause and effect relationship. Basically, if you make regular, unhealthy decisions, you’re likely to damage your dental health AND your cardiovascular health.

Studies have shown that treating periodontitis lowers C-reactive protein and improves the health of artery walls. Additional studies are underway to definitively determine whether treating periodontal disease lowers your risk of clinical heart disease.

One 2014 study found that patients who had their periodontal disease under control, had fewer hospitalizations and lower medical expenses within four years of treatment compared with patients who weren’t treated.

That’s reason enough to discuss periodontal disease with your primary care doctor and your dentist — and to do a better job of flossing and brushing. Don’t just do it for your smile — do it for your heart, too.

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Lower Inflammation to Reduce Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke / Dr. Andrea Klemes / February 14, 2018
Heart Disease By the Numbers / January 29, 2019

About the Author
Alan Reisinger, Author
A. Alan Reisinger, III, MD, FACP

Dr. Reisinger is MDVIP’s Associate Medical Director. He practiced for 35+ years as a board-certified internal medicine specialist with a heart for people, a focus on prevention and a desire to see primary care delivered the way it was intended. Serving as a member and subsequent chairman of MDVIP’s medical advisory board, he has helped to lead the clinical direction of the organization since 2008 and has been a passionate advocate for aggressive cardiovascular prevention in our network.

Previously, Dr. Reisinger was on the medical advisory board for Cleveland HeartLab and currently is a member of the BaleDoneen Academy, a Fellow of the American College of Physicians, a member of the American Society for Preventive Cardiology and an advisory board member of the American Academy for Oral Systemic Health.

Integral to his calling is his commitment to improving patient care, and he is resolute in the need to foster enhanced collaboration between the medical and dental communities. He has lectured nationally on cardiovascular disease prevention. Dr. Reisinger has embraced the mission of changing the outcome of CVD, the leading cause of death in the world… “because we can.”

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