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:
- Lose weight if you're overweight
- Eat healthy foods
- Exercise most days of the week
- Control any conditions that increase risk, such as diabetes, high
cholesterol, or high blood pressure
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,