In recent years there has been a growth in the number of investigations dedicated to exploring the relationship between oral and cardiovascular health.
Although the available evidence is still scarce, there are different theories that explain the possible mechanisms behind this relationship.
What is gum disease?
Periodontitis, also known as gum disease, is an infection of the gums that damages the soft tissue. It is estimated that about two-thirds of people over the age of 65 have gum disease.
This condition begins when plaque, a sticky film of bacteria and food, builds up around the teeth. In its earliest stage (gingivitis), irritated gums can bleed easily.
If left untreated, periodontitis can eventually destroy the bone that supports your teeth, causing them to become loose or lose.
Experts point out that certain symptoms can indicate the presence of gum disease:
- Pain when chewing.
- Have swollen or swollen gums that are bright red, dark, or purple in color, tender to the touch, or bleed easily
- Having loose teeth.
- Have persistent bad breath.
- Have new spaces between the teeth.
- Have pus between the teeth or gums.
- Dying your toothbrush pink after using it or spitting up blood after brushing or flossing.
How does it affect the heart?
Gum disease is not only limited to an unpleasant situation that affects the dental structure or causes damage to self-esteem. In recent years, different investigations have indicated that it could also have consequences on cardiovascular health.
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While not everyone with gum disease has heart problems and not everyone with heart problems has gum disease, there is a correlation.
For example, a paper published in Journal of Dental Researchfound after analyzing the medical history of almost 5,300 participants that people with poor dental health had twice the risk of developing coronary heart disease, compared to those with optimal oral health.
Other research, published in Journal of Oral Microbiologypointed out that Porphyromonas gingivalis, a bacteria that lives under the gums, is the type of bacteria that is most found in coronary and femoral arteries.
While a work published in European Journal of Preventive Cardiologywhich looked at nearly a million people (one of the largest samples to look at this comparison to date), suggested that while poor oral health doesn’t directly cause cardiovascular disease, there is a link that needs to be studied further.
But what is the reason for this relationship? Although the link between the two conditions is not yet fully understood, professionals have different theories about it.
In principle, shared risk factors could explain the association, such as poor diet, smoking or lack of access to medical care, among others.
Other professionals highlight the role of inflammation. Inflammation is a process that occurs when the immune system detects a foreign agent, such as bacteria or viruses.
The objective of this response is to protect, through white blood cells, potential infections or injuries. Once the danger is gone, the swelling usually subsides.
However, if the inflammation persists, even when the body does not feel threatened, it can become a problem, damaging tissues and organs.
Therefore, it is considered possible that inflammation in the gums triggers a chain reaction that ends up affecting the cardiovascular system.
Another answer to the relationship between oral and cardiovascular health can be found in the bacteria of the gums. These microorganisms, experts explain, can enter the blood supply and be propelled to different destinations, including the heart, where they cause inflammation and damage.
Not only the heart can be affected
Although cardiovascular problems related to gum disease is one of the aspects most studied by researchers, there is also evidence that poor oral health may be related to other conditions:
- Rheumatoid arthritis.
- Erectile dysfunction.
- bone problems
- Respiratory problems.
- Brush your teeth and tongue at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Learn how you should brush your teeth here.
- Floss between your teeth and gums at least once a day.
- Use mouthwash regularly.
- Maintain a healthy diet, rich in vegetables, fruits, grains and seeds. In turn, reduce the consumption of ultra-processed foods, rich in sugars, salts and fats.
- Controls cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
- Avoid smoking, vaping, or masking tobacco.
- Don’t neglect any symptoms of gum disease. Visit the dentist twice a year, for checkups and general cleaning.
How to prevent gum disease
Despite the high incidence of gum disease, especially in the elderly population, experts point out that there are different habits that can help maintain good oral hygiene and reduce the risk of this condition, and therefore , of suffering from cardiovascular problems:
Sources consulted: US National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Harvard Medical School, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, World Health Organization (WHO).