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healthy gums means a healthy heart

How Does Dental Health Affect Heart Health?

  • Is there a link between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease?
  • How bad dental hygiene leads to gum disease and cardiovascular issues
  • Can having bad teeth affect your overall health?
  • Break the link between mouth bacteria and heart disease

The dentists at Yonge Eglinton Dental in Toronto firmly believe that when patients take good care of their teeth and gums, they’re making a positive contribution to their overall health and well-being – and taking dental care to “heart”.

Many of our patients ask us, “How does dental health affect heart health?” It’s a fair question, as it’s been noted that people with gum disease are two to three times more at risk of having a heart attack or other type of cardiovascular event.

Although there are significant correlations between the two conditions, medical researchers haven’t been able to establish a direct connection between mouth bacteria and heart disease. Now, a team of researchers from the University of Toronto have discovered the first evidence that there may indeed be a link.

The report from the University of Toronto states that the missing link between gum disease and other systemic conditions, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes, lies in the behaviour of cells known as neutrophils. These cells are activated when bacteria attack the gums.

Through in vivo models, researchers found that an overabundance of neutrophils were being circulated, ready to combat not just the primary infection but also any secondary infections as well. This heavy-handed attack can also destroy affected tissues and organs, leaving the body susceptible to other negative outcomes.

From these controlled clinical experiments, researchers believe that neutrophils are the mechanism by which gum disease patients can contract other unrelated health issues, including heart disease, thereby underscoring the need to protect one’s oral health to help minimize the risk of developing other conditions.

The university’s research into the link between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease, which is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, is ongoing.

How bad dental hygiene leads to gum disease and cardiovascular issues

Bad dental hygiene that results from not brushing, flossing, or visiting your dentist for regular checkups can lead to plaque forming along the gumline. Over time, this plaque will harden into a substance called tartar or calculus, which will eventually cause inflammation of the gum tissue. This is a condition known as gingivitis.

Untreated gingivitis can develop into periodontal disease, which will weaken the bone that supports your teeth and lead to tooth loss.

However, the health dangers don’t stop with your mouth.

People with advanced periodontal disease have the highest risk for heart disease caused by poor oral health, particularly if it remains undiagnosed and untreated. This is because the bacteria that are invading your mouth can spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream.

When the bacteria reach your heart, they can attach to any damaged area and cause inflammation. You’re also at risk of atherosclerosis (clogged arteries) and stroke as a result of the inflammation caused by oral bacteria.

Can having bad teeth affect your overall health?

Bacteria from the mouth can easily get into the bloodstream and cause infection and inflammation wherever it spreads. Here are some other serious health problems that can be caused by poor oral health:

  • Dementia: Substances released from infected gums can kill brain cells or affect the brain’s nerve channels, contributing to the chances of developing dementia
  • Respiratory infections: You can contract respiratory infections, pneumonia, acute bronchitis, and even COPD from oral bacteria inhaled into the lungs, or travelling there through the bloodstream
  • Diabetes: Gum disease can lead to elevated blood sugar levels, increasing the risk of diabetes, or making symptoms harder to control for people already with the disease
  • Cancer: Poor oral health and gum disease have been linked to an increased risk of contracting kidney, pancreatic, and blood cancers
  • Difficult pregnancy: Developing periodontal disease and gingivitis during pregnancy has been known to lead to premature birth, low birth weight, and other health issues in both the mother and her baby
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: Oral bacteria from gum disease can increase inflammation throughout the body, which can increase the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, a painful and debilitating inflammatory disease

The good news is that the oral health issues that can lead to unrelated medical conditions are completely preventable by knowing the signs of periodontal disease, as well as what to do if you’ve developed it.

Although preventing heart disease involves more good health habits than just maintaining optimal oral hygiene, you can reduce the risk of oral bacteria causing cardiovascular problems and other health issues by following a preventative dental maintenance program.

This also involves discussing any specific dental issues you might be having with your dentist, including any of those that could suggest periodontal disease, such as:

  • Red or otherwise discoloured gums
  • Puffy, swollen, or sensitive gums
  • Blood on your toothbrush, floss, or when you eat
  • Pus or other signs of infection visible around your gums and teeth
  • Gums that appear to be “pulling away” from your teeth
  • Teeth that are loose or feel as if they are shifting away from the adjacent teeth
  • A metallic or otherwise bad taste in your mouth
  • Persistent halitosis (bad breath) throughout the day
  • Teeth that are overly sensitive, especially to hot or cold food and beverages

If you have any of these symptoms, we recommend making an appointment to see your dentist as soon as possible. They’ll be able to perform a complete examination and, if they determine that you need treatment for gum disease, will refer you to a periodontist for further treatment.

Remember the old saying about an ounce of prevention? Protect your overall health by brushing at least twice daily, flossing once daily, eating nutritious, tooth-friendly food, and visiting your dentist regularly. Take care of your teeth and gums, and you’ll be taking care of all of you!

How Does Dental Health Affect Heart Health? The dental team at Yonge Eglinton Dental in Toronto can help

Our dentists and dental hygienists understand the link between cardiovascular disease and dental treatment that works to prevent oral infection from spreading. We’ll be happy to answer all of your questions about how we can help bring you amazing smiles and great overall well-being for life.

Give us a call today at 416-932-2222 or book an appointment online. We’ll be happy to see you!

Concerned about visiting the dentist? Read about how we protect the health and safety of our patients and staff so your family can seek proper dental care with peace of mind. 

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