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Your Guide to Gum Disease Symptoms and Heart Disease

Could gum disease be harming your heart? Learn how to spot problems and practice good oral care.
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WebMD Feature

How do you know if gum disease may threaten your heart health? While the connection isn't yet proven beyond a doubt, plenty of evidence points to dental disorders such as periodontal disease (disease of the gums and bones that support the teeth) and gum disease (also called gingivitis) having something to do with heart disease. Until researchers are sure, the best defense is to adopt good oral health habits and be on the lookout for problems with your teeth and gums.

"Healthy gums are firm, light pink, and very elastic," says periodontist Sally Cram, DDS, a spokeswoman for the American Dental Association. So if that description doesn't fit the gums in your mouth, it's time for a checkup. Watch for these symptoms of gum disease:

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  • Red, swollen gums
  • Bleeding after you floss or brush
  • Receding gums or noticing that you seem to see more of a tooth than you used to
  • Pus on the gums
  • Pain when you bite or chew
  • Loose teeth

Some people are genetically more prone to periodontal and gum disease than others. So if it runs in your family, you should be especially vigilant. Get any symptoms checked out right away.

Specific conditions that might be related to heart disease are:

  • Gingivitis. This early stage of gum disease develops when bacteria build up in the gap between the gums and a tooth. Symptoms may be mild, but you might notice some redness, swelling, or bleeding. The only treatments you usually need are improved brushing and flossing habits.
  • Periodontitis. This is a more advanced form of gum disease, when the infection has gone deeper. The bacteria release toxins that make the surrounding tissue swell and infected pockets form between the teeth and gums. Over time, the infection can damage the bone beneath the gums, causing the gums to recede from the teeth.
  • Pericoronitis. This condition can happen when the wisdom teeth only partly push up through the gums, creating an opening for food or plaque to lodge under a flap of gum around the tooth. The tissue becomes swollen, painful, and infected. If the pericoronitis is severe, the swelling can move to the cheeks and neck.
  • Cavities. Cavities, tiny holes in the teeth caused by tooth decay, are also caused by bacteria, but by a different sort of bacteria than the ones that cause gum disease. Cavities can still play a role in gum disease. For instance, if you have a cavity that irritates the gum, it can lead to gingivitis or periodontitis.
  • Other dental and periodontal problems. Abscesses, missing teeth, and many other problems can directly or indirectly irritate the gums and lead to infection.

Other conditions and problems can increase your risk of developing periodontal disease. They include:

  • Certain illnesses. Any conditions that affect your immune system or your ability to heal, including diabetes and arthritis, can put you at higher risk of periodontal disease.
  • Side effects to medication. To have a healthy mouth, you need plenty of saliva to fight bacteria. However, many drugs, such as those for depression, heart disease, and other conditions, can cause a dry mouth, which can make you more prone to infection.

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