Your mother might have been on your case about your oral hygiene growing up because of the theory that gum disease related to heart disease. But then, she might have also told you that Windex heals everything and you should eat your vegetables on behalf of the starving children in China. You might not believe all of your mother’s medical advice.
But really, is gum disease related to heart disease? Periodontists have claimed there are connections between gum disease related to heart disease for decades, while other medical professionals have disputed them for an equal length of time. Much of the evidence of gum disease related to heart disease is circumstantial, making it difficult to build a hard and fast case for it either way. Let’s go over the facts:
The connection between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease.
There are a few facts that are not disputed in the medical world:
- Heart diseases is a serious problem. It is the leading cause of death among adults under the age of 65.
- Our oral hygiene seems to be worse than ever before. Our foods are laden with corn syrup and teeth-decaying chemicals, while only 20% of the population flosses as much as they should.
We know that heart disease and gum disease are a growing issue among humans. There is one thing that heart disease and periodontal disease have in common: inflammation. Gingivitis and periodontal disease is literally inflammation of the gums. Meanwhile, inflammation of the arteries is the culprit behind restricted blood flow that leads to heart failure.
The gums are made of highly vascular tissue. When they become inflamed, and particularly when an infection develops as a result of the inflammation, they become a gateway for bacteria and germs of the mouth to enter the blood stream. Some of the bacteria commonly found in gum disease (such as Streptococcus sanguis) is also linked to artery inflammation and heart disease, leading to the deduction that the two diseases go hand in hand.
But is gum disease and heart disease really a cause and effect?
Yes, it does seem that the more bacteria you have from gum disease, the thicker your arteries are, which leads to restricted blood flow, and heart disease. However, a case could be made that people with poor dental health may also have other habits that lead to heart issues. They have both gum disease and heart disease, but it’s related. A few factors that are definitely linked to heart disease include:
- Obesity. When a person is overweight, it puts greater stress on the blood vessels, which leads to a higher risk of heart attacks. A person who has heart disease because they’re overweight could easily have gum disease as well, but it is unrelated.
- Tobacco use We all know smoking is bad for everything. Two common health issues caused by smoking are heart disease and oral disease. While a smoker might have both, it might not be the gum disease that caused the heart disease; it’s likely the tobacco that caused both.
- Diabetes. Diabetes causes infection in all parts of the body, including the mouth and the blood stream. Nearly 10% of the population has diabetes; this is substantial enough to create a seemingly strong link between gum disease and heart disease, which is actually caused by diabetes.
These factors — as well as many others — could be linked to an increase in both gum and heart disease, making it difficult to definitively prove that gum disease is the cause and heart disease is the effect.
A strong case can be made for both sides of the argument over whether or not gum disease causes heart disease. However, we do know that good oral hygiene prevents gum disease, which is only good for our health. If having good dental hygiene habits also contributes to a healthy heart, it’s icing on the cake (that we shouldn’t eat, for the sake of our gums and heart).
A good oral hygiene routine includes:
- Brushing your teeth at least twice a day.
- Rinsing your mouth with water after eating.
- Flossing every day
- Visiting a dentist for a cleaning and checkup every six months
Following these tips promotes healthy gums and probably (although unproven) a healthy heart!