How Dental Health and Heart Disease Are Linked
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.