Can Bad Teeth Lead to a Bad Heart?

Here’s how your oral health affects your heart health and what you can do to protect your teeth (and heart) today.

A bright, shining smile can give you confidence in your appearance and let you laugh with no reserves. But poor oral health can affect more than your smile — your oral health an essential gateway to your overall health.

Oral health issues like cavities and untreated tooth decay could lead to periodontal disease. And a recent study found that the inflammation caused by periodontal disease can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.

A further study found that analysis of common mouth problems like cavities or missing teeth can be as effective at predicting heart disease as checking cholesterol levels.

When you take care of your teeth, you take care of your entire body — including your heart.

Here’s how your oral health affects your heart health, and what you can do to protect your teeth (and heart) today.

Untreated Cavities and Heart Disease

If you let an untreated cavity live in your mouth for too long, it can lead to periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease causes your gums to recede from your teeth, which creates a gap beneath the gum line where bacteria can hide and grow.

From this gap, bacteria can enter your bloodstream and travel to your heart’s arteries. If the bacteria in your heart’s arteries harden, it can cause a condition called atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis causes plaque to grow on the inner walls of your heart’s arteries, which can restrict blood flow throughout the body. And restricted blood flow to and from your heart is the catalyst for heart disease.

Bleeding Gums and Endocarditis

Poor oral hygiene can also lead to a gum infection.

Infected gums can be red, sensitive, and may bleed during brushing, flossing, or during a dental cleaning.

This type of bleeding could trigger a rare but serious heart condition called endocarditis. Endocarditis develops when bacteria from infected gums spreads to the inner lining of the heart.

Bacterial growths in your heart’s inner lining can prevent your heart’s valves from working properly. And when valves are not working efficiently, you’re at a heightened risk of heart attack.

Along with practicing a good oral hygiene regime at home, you can reduce your risk of endocarditis by telling your doctor or dentist about any health changes that could affect your heart’s health, including heart and blood complications or new medications.

Periodontal Disease and Heart Attacks

Similar to periodontal disease potentially leading to heart disease, growing research is showing that you’re more likely to have a heart attack if you have a dental disease.

When you have heart disease, you’ve got a higher risk the blood flow in your heart becoming blocked entirely. If this happens, it can trigger a heart attack.

A heart attack is both dangerous and expensive. Although critical illness insurance can help cover the bills associated with heart disease (if you’ve enrolled in a plan before your diagnosis,) the best way to prevent heart disease from developing out of periodontal disease is to invest in preventive care.

GUM DISEASE AND DEMENTIA

Studies linking gum disease with dementia found that people with chronic gum disease for 10 years or more had a 70 percent higher risk of Alzheimer’s than those without gum disease.

There is growing evidence of a link between severe gum disease, or periodontitis, and a raised risk of dementia.

The term dementia describes a decline in mental capacity – such as increasing difficulty with memory and reasoning – that becomes so severe that it disrupts daily living. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia.

Periodontitis is a common human disease in which the gums and the structures that support the teeth become inflamed due to bacterial infection. It usually starts as gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums.

Although the human mouth is home to a wide range of bacteria, when conditions are right, the bacteria populations can increase dramatically to cause inflammation. This usually happens when bits of food and bacteria deposit on tooth surfaces to form plaque.

The bacterial colonies in the plaque grow and produce toxins that trigger inflammation responses in the gums. If untreated, the inflammation becomes persistent and destroys bone, causing tooth loss.

 The first mechanism through which periodontitis could cause dementia would involve bacteria from the infected gums entering the bloodstream and then crossing the blood-brain barrier into the brain. These could then trigger brain tissue inflammation and even spur production of the toxic proteins that are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

The second mechanism would be a similar process in that the gum infection could set up a “systemic inflammatory state” that releases agents that promote inflammation. These agents could also cross the blood-brain barrier to trigger inflammation in brain tissue, which, if prolonged, can also contribute to toxic protein buildup.