Heart disease and gum disease are both pervasive issues in
the US, and now there's evidence that they may be linkedthat is, those who suffer from gum disease may be at a
higher risk for heart disease. Research published in the
Journal of the American Heart Association suggests that as
the overall health of the mouth worsens, the thickening of
arteries which can lead to heart disease also progresses,
while improved oral health results in healthier arteries.
What did this study entail?
Researchers followed the health of over 400 adults between
the ages of 60 and 76, examining their oral and
cardiovascular health both at the beginning of the study
and at the end of the three-year period. The oral exams
studied over 5,000 different fluid and tissue samples from
various areas of the mouth and gums, while ultrasounds
were used to determine the extent of artherosclerosis, or
thickening of the artery walls due to plaque buildup,
taking place in the body of each subject.
What did researchers find?
The conclusion of three years of study showed that a slowed
progression of artherosclerosis coincided with improvement of
gum health and reduction of oral bacteria. At the same time,
those whose dental health had worsened over the course of
the study showed higher levels of artherosclerosis. The
scientists conducting the experiment found these results to
hold true even after adjusting for factors like weight levels,
smoking history and diabetes, all of which are known to
influence heart health.
What does this mean for you?
While this study did not clearly find a cause-and-effect link
between oral health and cardiovascular health, it does point
strongly to the idea that these two areas are linked. Some
scientists theorize that an overabundance of bacteria in the
mouth triggers inflammation through the rest of the body,
which can negatively affect the amount of plaque buildup
retained in the arteries. This isn't the first study to find a
connection between dental health and heart health; a 2010
study concluded that plaque buildup on the teeth can
encourage heart attacks or heart disease by increasing the
possibility of blood clots.
Your main three weapons against bacteria buildup in the mouth
are brushing, flossing, and regular dental visits. Don't think
that you can skip your checkup because you aren't
experiencing any problems- often gum disease goes
unnoticed until it has progressed to a pretty severe point.
Your dentist will be able to spot any signs of trouble and help
you improve your oral health before it gets out of hand.