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Heart Disease Health Center

Periodontal Disease and Heart Health

Brushing and flossing may actually save your life.
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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 inflammatory response.

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."

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