How might oral health affect the heart? In gingivitis, the milder form of gum disease, infection leads to chronic inflammation—gums are swollen, red, and sometimes bleeding. Bleeding gums indicate the bacteria is active throughout the mouth and the body. In periodontitis, the more severe form, the infection affects the bones that support the teeth, leading to tooth loss. In both cases, disease is caused by an accumulation of bacteria, or plaque, between the gums and the teeth. These organisms release toxins that can circulate through the body.
In particular, the body’s arterial system is affected. Numerous reports in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology and other esteemed journals, display a startling correlation: the more severe the gum disease, the thicker and harder the walls of the arteries. This is true even for young, healthy adults with no other symptoms of heart problems. Narrowing of the arteries (or atherosclerosis) is a key component of heart disease.
But gum disease threatens more than your heart. The toxins in dental plaque can cause harm wherever they go. In fact, scientists are finding more and more links between oral health and conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, preganacy complications, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and even many types of cancer.
With professional cleaning, excellent oral hygiene, nutrients and removal of bacterial buildup, gum disease can be reversed—if it’s caught in the early stages. In the later stages, it must be treated more definitively.
A 2007 report in the New England Journal of Medicine noted that patients in an intensive six-month program to treat gum disease emerged not only with healthier gums but with improved endothelial function—a reference to the lining of the blood vessels. This result has been confirmed in other studies.
Too many of us neglect our gums and teeth. Good oral health will obviously help you avoid tooth loss. And it is also the way to a healthier heart and much more.