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I recently read this fascinating book titled, “Beat The Heart Attack Gene”, by Dr. Bradley Bale and Dr. Amy Doneen. In the book, heart disease is described as being a silent killer. Research cited in this book shows that the main risk factors associated with developing heart disease include: 

  • Family history
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Inflammatory disorders like rheumatoid arthritis
  • High cholesterol
  • Periodontal (gum) disease

Periodontal disease and Health of the Heart

My interest and focus is on the connection between dental disease and heart disease. The key factor that relates these two diseases is inflammation. Gingivitis, inflammation of the gums which is reversible, if left untreated, can lead to the more serious and irreversible form of gum disease known as periodontal disease. If you have periodontal disease, you have chronic inflammation which can have serious implications on the health of your heart.

Although we’ve known about the link between inflammation in the mouth and heart disease for some time now, it was eye opening to read gum disease listed as a red flag for heart attacks and strokes. 

Having chronic inflammation anywhere in the body is  the “fire” that can wreak havoc for your heart by destabilizing the plaque in blood vessels. Inflammation can cause the plaque to rupture and form a clot, hence stopping blood flow to the heart. Studies have shown a direct connection between the amount of gum inflammation and amount of inflammation present in the arteries in the neck and the aorta. Plaque formations in the carotid artery contain bacteria known to cause gum disease, which means that bacteria present in the mouth enter the bloodstream through the bleeding gums and cause inflammation of the blood vessels. 

Tooth Decay and the Heart

The newest danger related to oral health described in the book is tooth decay. One study conducted found that 75% of the clots present in the blood vessels had bacteria that cause dental cavities. Findings from this same study suggest that dental infections may trigger 50% of heart attacks. Dr. Bale and Dr. Doneen found this observation to be true in their clinical practice, whereby patients they were treating for heart disease had active dental infections or undiagnosed periodontal disease. In fact, they found that one patient that had suffered from a heart attack 6 months prior, was found to have gum disease and three teeth with abscesses. After the infected teeth were removed and gum disease was brought under control, the inflammation in this patient’s arteries went away.

Too often signs of dental disease like tooth decay, gum disease, and infected teeth are missed or overlooked by health care practitioners. This is why the doctor’s now recommend medical and dental practitioners work together to help decrease the risk of heart attacks in patients. 

What can you do to decrease your risk of heart disease?

Simple action steps described in the book include:

  • Avoid smoking
  • Exercise at least 22 minutes a day
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Reduce stress

As far as your oral health is concerned, brushing twice a day and flossing daily, along with getting a  professional cleaning every three months to combat gum disease, is recommended. “The leading warning sign of periodontal disease is bleeding gums. Contrary to what many patients assume, it is not normal to experience any bleeding, even slight amounts, when you brush or floss.” Results from one study showed: 

  • Brushing every night decreased risk of death by 20 to 25%
  • Flossing decreased mortality risk by 30%
  • Not seeing a dentist in 12 months raised risk of death up to 50%
  • Missing teeth was a major predictor of early death.

Dr. Bale and Dr. Doneen say that “optimal dental care is crucial to save lives and prevent heart attacks and ischemic stroke.” 

The good news is that the heart is an amazing muscle which can heal itself at any age. The key is to control the chronic inflammation in the body, especially in the mouth. By making small changes to our lifestyle, like introducing regular exercise or daily flossing, we can help both our hearts and our oral health. 

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