February is all about hearts—and not just on Valentine's Day. It's also American Heart Month, when healthcare professionals focus attention on this life-essential organ. Dentists are among those providers, and for good reason—dental health is deeply intertwined with heart health.
The thread that often binds them together is inflammation, a key factor in both periodontal (gum) and cardiovascular diseases. In and of itself, inflammation is a vital part of the body's ability to heal. Diseased or injured tissues become inflamed to isolate them from healthier tissues. But too much inflammation for too long can be destructive rather than therapeutic.
This is especially true with gum disease, an infection triggered by bacteria in dental plaque, a thin film that forms on the surface of teeth. If it's not substantially removed through daily brushing and flossing, along with regular dental cleanings, bacteria can grow and increase the risk of gum disease.
The infected gum tissues soon become inflamed as the body responds. This defensive response, however, can quickly evolve into a stalemate as the infection advances and the inflammation becomes chronic.
Arteries associated with the heart can also develop their own form of plaque, which accumulates on the inner walls. The body likewise responds with inflammation, which further hardens and narrows these vessels, leading to restricted blood flow and an increased risk for heart attack or stroke.
While it may seem like these are two different disease mechanisms, the same inflammatory response occurs in both. In fact, recent research seems to indicate that inflammation occurring via gum disease increases the likelihood of inflammation within the cardiovascular system. So, the presence of gum disease could worsen a heart-related condition—and vice-versa.
But the research also contains a silver lining. Controlling inflammation related to your gums could help control it elsewhere in the body, including with the heart. And, you can achieve that control by avoiding or reducing gum disease, which in turn can ease inflammation in your gums.
To sum it up, then, taking care of your teeth by brushing and flossing daily and seeing your dentist regularly to prevent gum disease could benefit your heart health. And, effectively managing chronic heart disease could also help you avoid an infection involving your gums.
You should also be alert to any signs your gums may be infected, including swollen, reddened or sensitive gums that seem to bleed easily. If you notice anything like this, see your dentist ASAP—the sooner you receive treatment, the easier it will be to get the infection—and inflammation—under control. Your gums—and perhaps your heart—will thank you.
If you would like more information about the links between dental disease and the rest of your health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Link Between Heart & Gum Diseases.”