How are dental health and heart disease related?

Are you at risk for heart disease? Sometimes it's hard to tell, but research that began in the 2000s suggests you see your dentist to find out. Several different studies by cardiologists and periodontists (gum disease specialists) now suggest that there are several connections between dental health and heart disease. People with gum disease, false teeth, or decayed teeth are much more likely to have heart disease. These are correlative studies, not cause-and-effect studies, but further research in this area may suggest that maintaining a healthy mouth is one of the keys to a healthy heart.

A study on dental health and heart disease connects the high risk of gum disease in patients requiring heart transplants. In an Australian study, 77% of a group of more than 80 patients who required a heart transplant had periodontal disease. This was compared with a group that did not require a transplant and with healthy hearts where only 13% had periodontal disease. This study may be slightly flawed as only 80 people requiring transplants were compared to a much larger group of people not requiring transplants, more than 900 people. Still, combined with other studies, these findings suggest that dental health and heart disease may be related.

What many similar studies reveal is that people who have had heart attacks, who need transplants, or who need heart surgery are much more likely to have dental problems. The main one of them was periodontal or gum disease, which means that there is a large number of bacteria in the mouth. In this case, you can not pass brushing or flossing, since the gums can bleed and therefore be open to receiving bacteria in the bloodstream.

It is theorized that one of the connections between dental health and heart disease is what the bloodstream does to the bacteria in the mouth. It can end up coating the walls of your arteries, causing atherosclerosis and blockage of the arteries, or alternatively, certain forms of strep bacteria can cause vegetative matter to grow on your heart valves, called bacterial endocarditis . Preventing gum disease is important, and that means flossing regularly and having your teeth cleaned twice a year. If you have gum disease, you should talk to your doctor or dentist about antibiotic mouthwashes that can help remove bacteria from your mouth before flossing.

Another connection between dental health and heart disease is the theory that tooth loss may actually change your diet and cause poorer cardiovascular health. Whether it's because of missing teeth or ill-fitting dentures, people may not eat such a high-fiber diet. Softer foods can mean more fatty foods and a significantly unbalanced diet, which increases your risk of heart disease. Therefore, it is important to obtain properly fitting replacement teeth or crowns as needed so that you can consume the recommended amounts of dietary fiber.

Dental health and heart disease have an even more established connection that has been known for a long time. People who have had surgeries, especially surgeries that used artificial valves, conduits, or stents, absolutely need a course of antibiotics before receiving any type of dental treatment, including teeth cleaning. It's always important to talk to your dentist about any heart conditions or surgeries you've had, and to ask your cardiologist if you need what are called prophylactic antibiotics before seeing the dentist. This single large dose of antibiotics taken one hour before dental work prevents the increased risk of developing bacterial endocarditis.

Also, treatment for certain forms of heart disease can exacerbate gum disease. Certain medications such as calcium channel blockers or ACE inhibitors may come in chewable form, and many contain sugar. Heart disease medications can create a snowball effect that actually worsens the very diseases they are supposed to treat by causing further dental problems. This problem can be addressed by taking pills that you can swallow instead of chewing so that the teeth are not affected by the medications.

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