What is the Heart of the Matter?

Did you know that taking care of your gums can help take care of your heart?

It’s true. 

You may not think about it, but the good bacteria in your mouth are actually a part of your body’s immune system. They protect your gums from infection by fighting off decay-causing oral bacteria, harmful germs and viruses.

Healthy gums also help keep plaque away from the inside of your teeth. Plaque is made up of food particles, dead cells and other substances that stick to your teeth, as well as bacteria. When plaque builds up on your teeth, it hardens into tartar, which causes gum disease. This can lead to tooth decay and periodontal (gum) infections.

If left untreated, these conditions can cause serious health problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular health problems such as heart disease. 

Heart disease can contribute to an increased risk of stroke or blood clots; keeping your gums healthy will help prevent this. Gum disease has been linked with higher cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and even heart attacks.

Not Just About Prevention

University of Michigan study recently found that individuals who have had a heart attack and received periodontal care after having that heart attack had shorter hospital stays and better health outcomes than individuals who didn’t. 

The researchers also found that patients who had heart attacks and received periodontal maintenance care had the shortest length of stay in the hospital. The longest length of hospital stay among study participants was experienced by the group that received no dental care.

The Michigan team set out to investigate whether dental treatment could prevent heart attacks. They used data from the MarketScan database to find 2,370 people who had experienced a heart attack. Of these, 47 percent had received regular or other oral health checks, 7 percent had had root planing and periodontics, and 10 percent had received maintenance treatments. Nearly one-third didn’t receive any oral health checkups before their heart attack.

The biggest takeaway in the study, according to its authors, was the connection between oral and overall health. 

Signs of Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease is caused when the tissues around the roots of your teeth become inflamed. It affects more than 90 percent of adults over age 35. If you don’t treat it, it can lead to tooth loss. Early signs of gum disease (gingivitis) include: 

  • Bleeding gums
  • Redness/gum inflammation
  • Swelling
  • Bleeding when brushing or flossing

If left to progress, gingivitis can develop into periodontal disease. Signs of this second phase of gum disease include: 

  • Loose teeth
  • Pus pockets under the gum line
  • Tooth loss
  • Pain when eating
  • Bad breath

The third stage of gum disease is periodontitis. 

Periodontitis is a chronic condition caused by bacterial infections that destroy the tissues surrounding the teeth. It affects nearly half of all adults over age 65 and almost 90 percent of those age 75 and older.

When you have periodontitis, your gums may recede, making it difficult for you to clean your teeth properly. You may experience pain while chewing, swallowing or talking. Your gums may bleed easily, and you may notice loose teeth.

Periodontitis carries additional health concerns, such as:

  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Kidney stones
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Osteoporosis
  • Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
  • Low birth weight in babies/pre-term labor

Prevention Is Key

So what can you do to improve your oral hygiene and reduce your chances of getting gum disease? Here are some tips to improve your gum and dental health: 

Brush twice daily using a soft-bristled brush for at least two minutes each time you brush. 

Use a toothpaste that contains fluoride. 

Floss every day. Flossing helps remove plaque between your teeth and along your gums. It also reduces the amount of bacteria that get trapped under your gum line.

Visit your dentist regularly. Your dentist can check your gums and recommend products that will help maintain them.

Don’t smoke! Smoking increases your chance of developing gum disease because tobacco use damages your gums’ protective layer.

Don’t forget to floss after eating too much sugar. Sugar feeds bad bacteria that live in your mouth. These bacteria produce acids that damage your teeth and gums.

Try chewing sugarless gum. Chewing sugarless gum can help clean your teeth and freshen breath. You can also try brushing your teeth immediately after you eat.

Avoid sticky sweet foods like candy. Foods with high amounts of sugar cause plaque to build up on your teeth. This makes it easier for harmful bacteria to grow.

Take care of your diet. A healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables can keep your body strong and help you avoid diseases like diabetes.

Get Regular Checkups

Regular visits to your dentist are important for maintaining good oral health and preventing cardiovascular disease and heart attack. Your dentist will be able to spot problems before they get serious and work to reduce risk to your heart health. In addition, regular dental exams can catch potential problems early so you can take steps to prevent tooth decay and other oral health issues from occurring.

Periodontal Treatment

If you’re experiencing any symptoms of gum disease, visit your dentist right away. He or she can perform an exam and provide treatment options. If you need more extensive treatment, your dentist may refer you to a specialist who specializes in treating gum disease.

Your dentist can treat gum disease through several methods, including:

Scaling and root planing. Scaling removes tartar buildup from beneath the gum line. Root planing smooths out rough areas where the roots of your teeth meet the bone. Both procedures require anesthesia.

Dental surgery. Sometimes referred to as gum grafts, this procedure involves removing damaged tissue from another part of your mouth and placing it over the affected area. The new tissue grows into place and strengthens the gum line.

Laser therapy. In this treatment, the dentist uses a laser to remove inflamed gum tissue from around the roots of your teeth. This is a less invasive treatment option than surgery.

Call us to schedule your appointment and learn more about your gum treatment options today.