Periodontal Disease and Heart Health
Brushing and flossing may actually save your life.
Could Periodontal Disease Cause Heart Attacks? continued...
"It's like the chicken and the egg," says Desvarieux. "In our study, we know that people who had higher levels of the bacteria had more arteriosclerosis, or atherosclerosis. But we can't say whether one caused the other." The only way to know, he says, is to follow up the people in his study to see how they fare in the long term.
But even if periodontal disease isn't actually causing heart disease, the connection could still be important. For instance, periodontal disease 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.
If further studies bear out the connection between periodontal disease and heart disease, the next step would be to try treatment, Desvarieux says. Might taking antibiotics not only help heal oral infections but, as a result, also lower your risk of heart disease? No one's sure, but it's possible.
It's still too early for official preventive steps, since researchers don't know exactly how heart disease and periodontal disease are connected.
"Obviously, people worried about heart disease need to pay attention to the established risk factors," Desvarieux tells WebMD. "I wouldn't want people to think that if they just started to brush their teeth more, they could go back to smoking or ignore their diabetes."
If you're at risk of heart disease, do the obvious:
But Cram of the ADA argues that everyone should make a special effort to prevent oral health problems. That's especially true, she says, for people who are at higher risk of developing heart disease. And Douglass adds that if you already have periodontal disease, you certainly shouldn't ignore it. In many cases, you may just need to learn better brushing and flossing habits. More advanced cases of periodontal disease may require a trip to the dentist for a careful cleaning of the roots of the teeth, called scaling and root planning, or surgery.