Periodontal Disease and Heart Health
Brushing and flossing may actually save your life.
Evidence Links Periodontal Disease and Heart Health continued...
Atherosclerosis, also called "hardening of the arteries," develops
when deposits of fats and other substances in your blood begin to stick to the
sides of your arteries. These deposits, called plaques, can build up and narrow
your arteries, clogging them like a plugged-up drain. If these plaques ever
block the blood flow completely, you could have a heart attack or stroke,
depending on the location of the blockage.
(Note: Not all plaque is alike. The plaques in your arteries have
nothing to do with dental plaque your dental hygienist scrapes off
your teeth. Dental plaque is a sticky residue of bacteria, acid, and food
particles that can irritate your gums and eat away at tooth enamel.)
So what might hardening of the arteries have to do with gingivitis, that
minor villain of toothpaste and mouthwash commercials?
No one is sure yet. Experts know that bacteria from the mouth can enter the
bloodstream through the gums. These same bacteria have been found clumped in
artery plaques. So one theory is that these bacteria stick to the fatty plaques
in the bloodstream, directly contributing to blockages.
Other possibilities lie in the body's own defense mechanisms against
bacteria. One of the body's natural responses to infection is inflammation
(swelling). It's possible that as these oral bacteria travel through your body,
they trigger a similar response, causing the blood cells to swell. This
swelling could then narrow an artery and increase the risk of clots.
That inflammation could be the root of the problem adds to data researchers
are gathering that suggest more and more diseases, including periodontal
disease, heart disease, and arthritis, are partially caused by the body's own
Could Periodontal Disease Cause Heart Attacks?
So could periodontal disease, gingivitis, or another dental disorder,
pericoronitis (when gum tissue around the molars becomes swollen and infected)
cause heart attacks and strokes? It's far too early to say.
"There's no question that there appears to be a connection," says
Gordon Douglass, DDS, past president of the American Academy of Periodontology.
"But the exact relationship between cardiovascular disease and periodontal
disease isn't clear."