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
"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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Receding gums or noticing that you seem to see more of a tooth than you
Pus on the gums
Pain when you bite or chew
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.