Having a healthy heart largely depends on your lifestyle and diet. If you eat a lot of unhealthy food, don’t exercise, smoke, drink too much alcohol and/or suffer from hypertension, your risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) is greatly increased. On the other hand, following a healthy diet (high in anti-oxidants) and exercising daily can reduce the risk factors for CVD. But how does oral health count as a risk factor?
The links between gum and heart disease
There is mounting clinical evidence that show gum disease (periodontitis) is strongly linked to a number of cardiovascular diseases, including:
- heart disease (coronary artery disease)
- heart attack (myocardial infarction)
- cerebrovascular disease – affecting blood supply to the brain
- stroke (cardioembolic and thrombotic)
- peripheral artery (or vascular) disease
- atrial fibrillation (heart arrhythmia)
- heart failure
Research scientists have discovered that patients with chronic gum disease (periodontitis) have a higher risk for a number of medical conditions associated directly with CVD. These include:
- endothelial dysfunction
- increased risk of narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
Why does gum disease affect cardiovascular health?
Gum disease or periodontitis affects cardiovascular health for a number of possible reasons, most of which involve the pathogenic bacteria (pathogens) associated with gum disease. These pathogens can migrate from the gums to other parts of the body via the body’s nervous system and blood stream. The presence of these pathogens, including the insidious Porphyromonas gingivalis, in your bloodstream can result in a larger build-up of calcium, fats and other materials on your arterial walls. This increase can fast track you towards atherosclerosis – and ultimately CVD. The same pathogens can also generate antibodies that directly affect your cardiovascular system, leading to the onset of CVD. Then there are the continual inflammation events and cytokine storms as a result of a chronic gum infection. These can have an adverse effect on your heart and general health as well.
What oral health practices can help prevent cardiovascular disease?
Maintaining good oral health is essential to lower your risk of heart-related health issues. Remember to brush your teeth twice a day. Use floss or interdental brushes to clean the spaces between your teeth. Last, but not least, visit your dentist twice a year for a check-up, so that any early signs of gum disease or periodontitis can be treated promptly.