You’ve heard us say time and time again that oral health is linked to your overall health. Most people treat their mouths as a separate entity from the rest of their bodies and ignore the fact that what goes on in there has a huge correlation to many other health issues. This month we are focusing on the main link to heart disease. Heart disease is the highest cause of death in both men and women across the United States. It’s predicted that 1 in every 4 deaths is due to heart disease. Periodontal disease affects approximately 50% of individuals with over 70% prevalence in adults ages 65 and older. So how are these two very familiar diseases related?
Let’s start by saying there have been no studies that have PROVEN poor oral health causes heart disease. There are studies however that show a strong correlation between the two, so that’s what we will go over here. One of the main theories typically written about is that of bacteria. As you may know, our mouths contain a substantial amount of bacteria. We can have anywhere from 100-200 different strains of bacteria at any given time living in our mouths alone. This equates to millions or billions of bacteria living in your oral cavity. Many are impotent or harmless, but some are disease causing. It’s bacteria like this that have been found in blood vessels causing inflammation and tenderness, just as they do in our gums.
Not only do the bacteria cause trouble if they end up in your heart and blood vessels, but your bodies natural inflammatory response can also cause destruction. When you suffer from gingivitis or periodontal disease, your body fights back with its usual inflammatory response. This doesn’t just take place in your mouth though. The inflammatory response is a nonspecific reaction to pathogens, damaged cells and/or toxins that take place throughout your entire body (you can learn more about the damage it causes here). It is this reaction to oral pathogens that “sets off a cascade of vascular damage throughout the body, including the heart and brain.” (Harvard).
Another association between poor oral health and heart disease is smoking. Smoking is a high risk factor for both diseases and may be the link between the two. A 2018 study, evaluated data from a million people who had different cardiovascular episodes and found that:
- Accounting for age, a moderate correlation was found between tooth loss and coronary heart disease (the most common type of heart disease).
- After accounting for smoking the correlation largely disappeared.
We could conclude that smoking may very well be the missing piece of the mouth to heart mystery, but more studies are needed for a definitive answer.
Now whether the correlations are direct or coincidental it’s obvious that these two common diseases are associated in some way. The best thing you can do for yourself is to try your best to improve your oral health now, and we are here to help! Whether you need help for tobacco cessation or a discussion on interdental aids, we will tailor a preventive treatment plan to your specific needs. We strive to stay up to date with the newest research, and will share that with you as more studies are completed on this topic. As always our #1 goal is to help you achieve the healthiest mouth possible, and we thank you for trusting us on your journey to improved oral health!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
Inflammatory responses and inflammation-associated diseases in organs