Heart disease is one of the largest reasons for mortality around the world . Can it be influenced by something as seemingly mundane as gum disease? The exact nature of the relationship between heart disease and gum disease is complicated. It is not like taking bleeding gums treatment will make sure you never have heart disease but evidence suggests that there could be a closer relationship than most people imagine .
Relationship between heart disease and gum disease
Gum disease can be largely divided into gingivitis or periodontitis. Gingivitis refers to inflammation of the gums while periodontitis refers to inflammation of the supporting structures of the teeth. These supporting structures include gums, the bone around the tooth, the ligament which attaches the tooth to the bone, and the layer covering the surface of the root .
It is periodontitis which raises more concern when it comes to affecting the cardiac health of a person.
Now, it must be made clear that as of yet evidence has not been able to establish a cause and effect relationship between gum disease and heart disease. There is, however, a solid association between gum disease and the exacerbation of pre-existing heart conditions .
How can gum disease affect heart disease?
There are two major links that have been theorized to be behind this confounding relationship. The first is bacteria. Gum disease is caused by the accumulation of disease-causing bacteria on the root surfaces. Since the gums and other supporting structures are extremely vascular, these bacteria can enter the bloodstream and travel to different parts of the body.
They can get lodged in the arteries and release toxins which increase inflammation. The result can be an increased hardness of the arteries affecting blood pressure or an increased build of blockages in the arteries .
The second proposed mechanism has to do with inflammation. Gum disease and its destruction have been linked to the inflammatory response of the body. While the gums may seem like a small part of the body, the entire surface area of the gums and the surrounding supporting structures add up to an area of around the size of the fist.
Such a large area being inflamed in the body releases markers of inflammation into the bloodstream and can affect the heart even without the physical presence of micro-organisms at the site .
Can gum disease worsen heart conditions?
There are certain heart conditions which can be directly affected by the presence of gum disease. The chief among these is bacterial endocarditis. People who have prosthetic valves, birth defects in the heart, heart valve defects or damaged heart valves, or a condition called as Mitral valve prolapsed then they are at direct risk of complications originating from gum disease.
Since gum disease results in the release of multiple strains of bacteria into the bloodstream, it is expected that some of them will make their way to the heart. People that have artificial heart valves or damaged ones cannot risk the colonization of these valves by disease-causing bacteria .
This is why it is essential for them to take gum disease and return to a state of health wherein the bacteria colonizing their gums are health promoting rather than disease causing.
People who are at risk for bacterial endocarditis or have suffered bacterial endocarditis in the past must make it a point to let the dentist know about their condition before the treatment begins. All treatment for such patients must be done under proper antibiotic cover .
While such a strong association between other kinds of heart disease and gum disease does not exist, a strong association has been found between the increasing likelihood of a stroke and uncontrolled gum disease .
Studies have found that a higher percentage of patients suffering from a stroke showed the presence of bacteria found in gum disease around the cardiac system than those that remained healthy and unaffected.
This kind of association is insufficient to suggest a direct cause-effect relationship but it has certainly caught the attention of cardiologists around the world. Patients are encouraged to have a thorough dental checkup done as a part of their recovery and maintenance program after being treated for heart disease.
Similar associations have been made for high blood pressure, cholesterol build up, and ischemic heart disease as well.
Can gum disease treatment improve heart condition as well?
There are plenty of studies that have found an association with better cardiac health maintenance and the reduction of complications with better gum health . It would, however, be unfair and incorrect to say that cardiac conditions are cured by gum treatment.
At the very best, the reduction of inflammation in the body and the associated reduction in disease-causing bacteria in the body can do no harm to the state of the cardiac health.
As a patient with heart disease, it is in your best interests to take extra care of your gum health as well.