Plaque on your teeth may be connected to plaque in your arteries.
You might think your mouth and heart are two separate parts of your body, but there is growing evidence that they may be more closely linked than you think. For decades, researchers have investigated the link between gum disease and cardiovascular health. Dental plaque is the sticky, bacteria-laden film that builds up around teeth. The arteries can also have a build-up – made of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in blood which is called atherosclerosis. This fatty build-up or plaque is the cause of heart disease.
People with gum disease have two to three times the risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiovascular event. However, many people with heart disease also have healthy gums, and not everyone with gum disease develops heart problems. Still, there is a growing suspicion that gum disease may be an independent risk factor for heart disease.
So, what is the connection between gum disease and heart disease?
Inflammation is One Reason
One of the main ways that gum disease and heart disease are linked is through inflammation. According to Dr. Hatice Hasturk of the Harvard-affiliated Forsyth Institute, a not-for-profit research organisation that focuses on oral health, “Periodontal disease increases the body’s burden of inflammation.”
Inflammation is a natural immune response that helps the body fight off infection. However, chronic inflammation can damage tissues and organs throughout the body, including the heart. The bacteria that cause gum disease can enter the bloodstream and travel to other parts of the body, where they can trigger inflammation. This inflammation can damage the lining of blood vessels, leading to plaque buildup, and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
In addition to inflammation, there are other factors that contribute to both gum disease and heart disease. These include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
The above can damage the lining of blood vessels, making them more susceptible to inflammation and plaque buildup.
How to Prevent Gum Disease and Heart Disease
The best way to prevent gum disease and heart disease is to reduce the risk.
Limiting some of the risks can include:
- Quitting smoking
- Controlling your blood sugar levels
- Managing your blood pressure
- Reducing your cholesterol levels
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
In addition, it is important to have regular dental checkups and cleanings. This will help to remove plaque and bacteria from your teeth and gums, which can help to prevent gum disease.
If You Have Gum Disease
If you have gum disease, it is important to treat it promptly. Treatment for gum disease usually involves scaling that removes plaque and tartar from below the gum line.
Treating gum disease can help to reduce your risk of heart disease. Research by Dr. Danielle Kamato, a 2018 Heart Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow and Post Doctorate researcher at the University of Queensland, aims to discover more about the links between gum disease and cardiovascular disease (conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels).
The connection between gum disease and heart disease is complex, but it is clear that there is a link between the two conditions. By reducing your risk factors for gum disease and heart disease, you can help protect your heart health.
Even if you don’t have gum disease, it is very important to maintain good oral health.
Some of the tips to reduce your risk of gum disease are:
- Brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes each time.
- Flossing your teeth once a day.
- Using a mouthwash that contains fluoride.
- Having regular dental checkups and cleanings.
- Eating a healthy diet that is low in sugar and processed foods.
- Exercising regularly.
- Quitting smoking.
By following these tips, you can help to keep your mouth and heart healthy.
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