Many patients are bewildered when their cardiologists refer them to a dentist. As surprising as it may seem, there’s actually a link between the health of your teeth and that of your heart. In fact, oral health is directly linked to a number of diseases, including heart disease and cancer.
The Connection Between Your Heart and Smile
There are two ways in which heart disease and your oral health are linked.
The Connection Between Periodontal Disease and Heart Disease
There’s a growing body of research linking gum disease to heart disease. Both diseases share a common problem: inflammation. Gum diseases are caused by the progression of plaque and bacteria overtaking the mouth (an inflammatory process), whereas heart diseases are caused by the hardening and inflammation of arteries.
Oral Health Hints to Overall Health
Failing to recognize warning signs in your mouth can lead to the progression of many diseases throughout your entire body. For example, sensitive and swollen gums can be a sign of diabetes or an underlying cardiovascular problem. Therefore, you need to visit your dentist regularly to detect these signs and start treatment for their underlying causes.
Are You Currently at Risk?
There are several factors that can lead to unhealthy teeth as well as gum disease. These factors include smoking and tobacco use, poor nutrition, and diabetes. Chronic gum disease can also increase your chances of suffering a heart attack.
According to the Academy of General Dentistry, ignoring gingivitis and allowing it to evolve into periodontal diseases causes plaque buildup below your gum line. If the plaque-forming bacteria is dislodged, it can enter the bloodstream and increase your chances of infection. Likewise, inflammation of the gums can trigger the formation of clots. Clots can decrease blood flow to the heart and elevate blood pressure, putting you at risk for a heart attack.
If you’re currently experiencing any of these signs, chances are that you have gum disease and require immediate attention:
- Bad breath or bad taste that doesn’t leave your mouth
- Bleeding gums during brushing
- Loose teeth
- Red, swollen or overly sensitive gums
- Retracting gums (they pull away from your teeth)
How Your Dentist Can Help You Prevent Gum and Heart Disease
If you’re at the risk of developing heart disease due to factors such as your genes or diabetes, make sure to make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.
Dental professionals can prevent gum disease with regular dental exams and cleanings. Even if you do get gingivitis, they can detect it early and ensure that it doesn’t evolve into more serious problems.
In addition to scheduling checkups and cleanings, you should brush your teeth and floss according to your dentist’s instructions. If you think you aren’t effectively brushing and flossing, ask your dentist for a refresher course on these practices. Protect yourself from gum disease and heart disease by visiting your dentist regularly. The few minutes you spend in their chair will guarantee you a healthy lifetime with the people you love.