New information and study results are reported daily on a variety of health care topics. The link between oral heath and and overall health is no exception. For well over a decade the connection between oral hygiene and heart health has been examined and re-examined by dentists and doctors. While the experts work on pinpointing the science behind the connection, it is fair to say that your oral health offers clues about your heart and overall health.
In 2000, The Surgeon General released a report entitled Oral Health In America that indicated a “possible association between periodontal disease (gum disease) and diseases such as atherosclerosis, heart attacks and strokes.” Since that report, research continues to indicate a link between gum disease and systemic illnesses.
A number of recent studies suggest that taking proper oral hygiene is a powerful weapon against heart attacks, strokes, and other heart disease conditions. There are various reports that show oral health, gum disease in particular, is related to serious conditions like heart disease. So can preventing periodontal disease, a disease of the gums and bone that support the teeth, with brushing and flossing prevent heart disease?
Even though the connection isn’t completely understood by those in the medical field, experts agree that the link is intriguing. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to have heart disease. One study supports the notion that the presence of common problems in the mouth, including gum disease, cavities, and missing teeth, were as good at predicting heart disease as cholesterol levels.
At one time, periodontal disease was considered to be ‘just an infection in the mouth,’ affecting only the mouth. But over the last decade, research has shown that periodontal disease is like any other infection in the body and it can spread. In response to an infection, the body produces proteins called C-Reactive Protein (CRP) which cause an irritation to blood vessel walls that ultimately leads to artery narrowing, which can lead to cardiovascular disease, heart attack or stroke. In fact, patients with severe periodontitis have been shown to be twice as likely to have a fatal heart attack and three times as likely to have a stroke as patients who are not suffering from gum disease. Researchers are also reporting a bi-directional interaction between oral and systemic health, which means that periodontal disease can lead to systemic diseases or it can be an indicator of them.
The implications of the connection between periodontal disease and systemic diseases are so strong that medical and dental insurance companies are beginning to provide better periodontal treatment coverage in their policies. In fact, some health insurance companies are monitoring patients who have complex health problems to ensure that they’re receiving routine dental care as a part of their overall healthcare regimen.
The good news in all of this is that periodontal disease can be prevented! Good daily oral hygiene habits that consist of brushing at least twice a day and flossing once a day, along with regular dental checkups and professional dental cleanings can prevent gum disease or reverse it if it does get started.
There are certain risk factors that raise the probability of periodontal disease—such as poor oral hygiene habits, smoking, or health problems such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease or diabetes. But even with these factors, good oral hygiene and regular dental visits, along with professional dental cleanings, can maintain, monitor and improve oral health, which can have a positive effect on a patient’s health overall. It’s imperative that periodontal disease or the possibility of this disease be taken very seriously since it can negatively impact much more than just the teeth and gums.
Even if more studies are needed to fully understand the connection between oral health and heart disease, the connection is still important. For instance, periodontal disease just might be an early sign of cardiovascular problems. Heart disease can be hard to catch early, because many of the conditions that precede it have no symptoms. You won’t ever feel your arteries hardening or your cholesterol rising. But you might notice bleeding or painful gums and when you do, don’t ignore it.
A little prevention goes a long way, especially now that some evidence supports using your toothbrush and floss may prevent much more serious health problems down the road.
American Dental Association tips on promoting good oral health by preventing gum disease, tooth decay, and cavities:
. Brush teeth twice a day with an ADA-accepted fluoride toothpaste.
. Clean between teeth daily with floss or an interdental cleaner.
. Eat a balanced diet and limit between-meal snacks.
. Visit you dentist regularly for oral examinations and professional cleanings.
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