Over the past ten years, evidence has been mounting that supports a relationship between poor oral health and risk of heart disease.
One study that examined 125 individuals who had experienced a heart attack and 125 healthy individuals. The researchers found that the individuals who had experienced a heart attack had significantly poorer oral health compared to the healthy group (1). Specifically, these individuals had a higher number of missing teeth, a higher number of lesions on the teeth detected as by dental X-rays, and less teeth that had undergone successful root canal fillings. Overall, this study suggested that individuals who had experienced a heart attack also showed an unfavorable state of dental health compared to healthy patients.
Another study examined 80 patients with coronary artery disease (2). The research group collected data regarding how often the individuals went to the dentist, how often they brushed and flossed their teeth, their tobacco use, as well as their additional medical history. In addition, the health of the gums of each patient was examined. After adjusting the results to exclude factors such as age and gender, the research group showed that there was a association between early gum disease and coronary artery disease. The authors concluded that inflammation of the gums may be a risk factor for coronary artery disease.
Some researchers suggest that the link between poor dental health and risk of heart disease relates to the bacteria in the mouth that may enter the blood stream, causing a bacterial infection and bodily response to the infection (3). It is thought that when an individual has poor dental health over the long term, the gums and bones around the teeth are likely to become diseased due to high levels of bacteria being present in their mouth. The mouth bacteria may frequently get into the body's bloodstream, through normal chewing, and tooth brushing and flossing, in addition to dental procedures. The bacteria could potentially cause infection (such as endocarditis, or inflammation of the heart valves or lining) or could adhere to the walls of the arteries, which over time, could lead to a narrowing of the arteries, thus contributing to the risk of heart disease. Interestingly, one study has shown that the levels of antibodies in the blood against specific mouth bacteria can be a predictor of risk of future stroke (4).
All this research suggests that oral health is not just important for maintaining healthy teeth, but also for preventing heart disease. Regular brushing, flossing and at least twice-yearly visits to your dentist for a professional cleaning are recommended to reduce your risk of gum disease.
References for this article:
1.) Willershausen, Kasaj, Willershausen et al. (2009). Association betweeh chronic dental infection and acute myocardial infarction. Journal of Endodontics 35(5): 626-30.
2.) Bazile, Bissada, Nair & Siegel (2002). Periodontal assessment of patients undergoing angioplasty for treatment of coronary artery disease. Journal of Periodontology 73(6): 631-6.
3.)Spahr, Klein, Khuseyinova et al. (2006). Periodontal Infections and Coronary Heart Disease: Role of Periodontal Bacteria and Importance of Total Pathogen Burden in the Coronary Event and Periodontal Disease (CORODONT) Study. Archives of Internal Medicine 166(5): 554-9.
4.)Pussinen, Alfthan, Rissanen et al (2004). Antibodies to periodontal pathogens and stroke risk. Stroke 35:2020-2023.