Remember your mother's reminders to brush your teeth? There is good reason for that. The mouth has more than 700 types of bacteria. These bacteria can get into the bloodstream. From there, they can travel to the heart.
Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on the teeth. It can harden into tartar under the gumline and cause gingivitis. Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums around the teeth. It is the earliest and most treatable stage gum disease. It can be reversed with regular dental cleanings and good teeth and gum care.
If left untreated, gingivitis can lead to periodontitis. Periodontitis is a more severe form of gum disease. Bacteria invade the gums, bones, and tissues that support the teeth. Over time, gums separate from teeth. When this happens, pockets of bacteria form and deepen. This can lead to loose teeth and tooth loss.
Heart disease and strokes are more common in people with gum disease. Many experts believe there is a link.
Once in the gum tissue, bacteria can enter the bloodstream. From there, it can affect other parts of the body. A long term gum infection causes the body to release certain chemicals. It is believed that these inflammatory chemicals affect the arteries. They may help create a buildup of fat deposits and clots in the blood vessels (arteries). This buildup can then block blood flow, which could lead to a heart attack.
Many people with heart disease have healthy gums. And not everyone with gum disease will have heart problems. Other things may be involved. For example, a person may smoke or have an unhealthy diet. This could worsen their heart risk.
Gum infections have been linked to other conditions. Examples are certain respiratory conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, and problems with diabetes. These conditions may also play a role in heart disease.
Without treatment, gum disease gets worse over time. Symptoms of gum disease are:
If you notice any of these symptoms, make a dental appointment. In its earliest stages the condition can heal. This requires good dental care at home and and frequent professional cleaning. If not, a more intense professional cleaning can help. You may need to see a specialist. It depends on your situation. The dentist can do a deeper cleaning below the gum line. This will help the gum to reattach to the teeth. Worse gum disease may need surgery. Surgery helps clean the infected area and rebuild damaged bone.
More aggressive bacteria may be treated with antibiotics. They may be given as pills, mouth rinses, or gels applied to the gums. Other medicines may be used to protect the gum tissue. This can prevent periodontitis from getting worse.
What if blood vessel changes have already happened? Will treating periodontitis help prevent heart disease then? Experts are unsure. But professional care will help prevent tooth loss. And tooth loss has been linked to heart disease. The best bet is to care for your teeth and gums as advised by your dentist.
To reduce your risk of gum disease:
American Academy of Periodontology
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research:
Public Health Agency of Canada
Chang Y, Woo HG, et al. Improved oral hygiene care is associated with decreased risk of occurrence for atrial fibrillation and heart failure: A nationwide population-based cohort study. Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2020;27(17):1835-1845.
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Last reviewed October 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated: 10/15/2021