Gum Disease Linked to Increased Cardiovascular Risk

Newberg dental practice

At our Newberg dental practice, Dr. McLeod strives to provide our patients with the knowledge they need to enjoy a healthy, great-looking smile for a lifetime.

As we’ve covered before in our blog, a direct connection exists that links the health of our teeth and gums to our overall health. In fact, people with periodontitis, a severe form of gum disease, have a higher risk for experiencing major cardiovascular events, according to a new study.

In a joint study published in the Journal of Periodontology by researchers at Harvard University and the Forsyth Institute were able to show that inflammation linked to active gum disease was predictive of inflammation in the heart, which can lead to stroke, heart attack, and other forms of cardiovascular disease.

This study further illustrates the connection that exists between heart health and oral health.

A Healthy Smile Means a Healthier Heart

As part of their study, researchers conducted positron emission tomography and computer tomography (PET and CT) scans on over 300 participants to view and categorize any inflammation in the gum and arteries of each patient. In follow-up studies conducted nearly four years later, 13 of the participants developed some type of cardiovascular problem. The presence of inflamed gum tissue was found to be predictive of a patient developing a cardiovascular problem, even after researchers accounted for known risk factors like blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and smoking habits.

Significantly, researchers discovered that bone loss caused by periodontitis was not linked to an increased risk for any cardiovascular problems. Patients whose gums were not swollen actually had a lower risk for developing any cardiovascular issue, even if those participants had previously experienced gum disease-related bone loss.

“This is definitely related to people who have currently active inflammatory disease,” wrote the research team.

Understanding the Mouth/Body Connection

Researchers suspect that local gum inflammation activates and stimulates cells throughout the body, which triggers the inflammation of a patient’s arteries, leading to poor heart health. But how do oral bacteria make their way to the heart?

Currently, researchers believe two mechanisms are the most likely to allow the spread of harmful bacteria throughout the body.

First, gum disease, even during its early stage, can cause gum tissue to become irritated and swollen. When this occurs, gum tissue can begin to easily crack. Usually, this results in patients noticing blood along their gum line and in their toothpaste after brushing. However, according to researchers, these cracks in a patient’s gums enable harmful oral bacteria to escape the mouth by entering the bloodstream.

Once in a patient’s blood, the bacteria can freely move throughout the body. Wherever the bacteria come to rest, such as the heart, it causes inflammation to develop.

The other mechanism is a little less straightforward. Since the mouth acts like a point of entry to the body, researchers believe that harmful oral bacteria can be aspirated into the lungs. Once the bacteria travel from the mouth to the lungs, it can enter the bloodstream and start to cause inflammation.

Protecting Your Health Requires Visiting Our Newberg Dental Practice

To enjoy a healthy smile for a lifetime, patients need to receive regular dental care from Dr. McLeod at our Newberg dental practice.

Regular exams and cleanings enable Dr. McLeod to prevent the type of long-term damage that can seriously undermine the health of a patient’s smile. As the study above, and others we’ve covered on our blog, highlights, the state of a patient’s oral health greatly influences their overall health.

By receiving regular dental care, you can not only enjoy a healthier smile, but a healthier overall body as well.

Now that gives all of us a reason to smile.