By Rosemarie Marquez, DMD / St Pete Oral Health Center
Of all the organs in your body, your heart is one of the most important. We all know most of the risk factors contributing to heart disease: poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, etc. Did you know that your oral health can have a significant impact on the health of the entire cardiovascular system? Health professionals in both the medical and dental fields have been studying this correlation for decades. There is now irrefutable evidence of the association between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease, and what remains to be determined is the exact mechanism of action.
First, what is periodontal disease? It is a progressive, non-communicable disease; the 6th most common human disease worldwide, with a prevalence of 45-50% of the population. Periodontal disease ranges from early-stage gingivitis, which is inflammation of the tissues and totally reversible, to irreversible advanced periodontitis, which involves bone and gingival height loss, along with bleeding, pus, and tooth loss. Periodontal disease is caused by bacterial accumulation on the teeth and the plaque accumulated on them. If this bacterial population is not controlled, it progresses to cause systemic (whole-body) inflammation.
We know the link between periodontal disease and cardiovascular health (the health of the heart and supporting tissues, like blood vessels) is multifactorial, but all of them are related to Infection! The bacteria present in periodontal disease start by weakening the blood vessels in the gums, allowing them to passage into the bloodstream, a normally sterile environment. Patients with periodontitis show varying degrees of endothelial dysfunction, arterial stiffness, thickening of the carotid arteries, and increased incidence of arterial calcifications. The endothelium is the lining of the heart and blood vessels which helps regulate blood vessel contraction and relaxation, blood clotting, and platelet adhesion. The bacteria in the bloodstream cause a cascade of inflammatory reactions that can lead to atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction (heart attack). This cascade is linked to a host of other diseases, but it’s February and so we’re focusing on the HEART.
So, what can you do to prevent this cascade? Practice proper oral hygiene!
- Removing all deposits from all teeth takes on average 2 minutes of brushing; this should be done twice daily.
- Cleaning in between teeth is equally important. The best way to do this is FLOSSING! Before bedtime is the best time! (More on that topic in an upcoming article.)
- Maintaining regular dental cleaning and exam appointments that include measurements of your gums is important. Healthy mouths should be professionally cleaned twice a year. Mouths with periodontal disease need to be cleaned four times a year.
- Some patients may require an antimicrobial rinse to help with bacterial control.
- Pay attention to your mouth – are your gums bleeding when you brush or floss? Make an appointment with your dentist ASAP – even if you just had one! You could be having a flare-up. Bleeding is NEVER normal! If your nails bleed when you wash your hands, you’d rush to your physician. The same applies to your mouth; your gums should not bleed when you clean them.
As you can see, keeping that smile looking beautiful is about much more than your teeth, it’s about your HEART!