Swollen, tender or bleeding gums can indicate gum disease, and if you’re experiencing those symptoms, it is likely time to check in with your periodontist or dentist. The body is a complex system and sometimes issues in one part, like your mouth, can indicate or even cause issues in other parts of your body.
After years of research, many medical experts believe that your mouth and heart maintain one such connection. Specifically, several studies suggest that gum disease can go hand-in-hand with or even be a contributing factor to cardiovascular disease.
Cardiovascular Disease and Gum Disease
Though the name suggests a single ailment, cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term used to refer to any many conditions that affect the heart. This includes issues with your blood vessel and arteries, congenital heart defects, and arrhythmias (issues with your heart’s rhythm).
Each year cardiovascular disease, also known as heart disease, is responsible for approximately 655,000 deaths in America, making it one of the leading causes of death across the nation. There is good news, however. Modern medicine has provided us with plenty of tools and a growing body of information to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease. But to benefit from those resources, we each must work closely with doctors, including periodontists, to manage and treat any conditions that would increase the risk for this dangerous disease.
The Connection between Gum and Heart Health:
How are your heart and gums linked? Several theories explore this connection, but most experts point to the defining characteristics of gum disease: inflammation and bacteria.
Researchers now suspect that the bacteria present on gums can break apart and travel into the body, landing in the cardiovascular system. There, it results in similar conditions — inflammation and infection — within the blood vessels and arteries. As a result, those vital cardiovascular pathways become narrow and/or clogged, leading to heart attacks, strokes, and other heart-related issues.
The presence of gum disease does not always indicate a cardiovascular condition. However, a growing body of research suggests the two can and often do go hand-in-hand. As such, you should evaluate any genetic, behavioral, or environmental factors that may put you at an increased risk for either.
If any of those factors have led to or put you at risk for cardiovascular disease, a trip to the periodontist can help you take control or even eliminate the risks associated with gum disease. Likewise, if you have or may have gum disease, talking to a periodontist as well as your primary physician or cardiologist can help you identify any potential causes for concern and develop a treatment plan to decrease potential cardiovascular risk factors.
Gum Disease: Risks & Systems
How do you know if you may have gum disease? Though everybody — and mouth, for that matter — is different, several symptoms are typically associated with periodontal or gum disease.
- Swollen, tender, or painful gums
- Bleeding as a result of flossing, brushing, or eating
- Gum recession (i.e.g, when gums pull away from the teeth)
- Loose or shifting teething
- Chronic bad breath
The symptoms listed above act as red flags for existing or worsening gum disease and therefore should trigger a trip to the periodontist. However, as in any medical condition, prevention is a key to prolonged health. Several factors may put you at an increased risk for gum disease and associated concerns like cardiovascular disease. If you have one or more of the risk factors below, a trip to the periodontist can also be a wise decision.
- Certain medications (e.g., some antidepressants, heart medicines, and oral contraceptives).
- Smoking or tobacco use
- Faulty or improperly placed dental implants
- Poor nutrition
A healthy mouth is the key to a confident and pain-free smile, but for many patients, it can be much more. Years of research indicate that there is an inextricable link between gum health and heart health. If you have gum disease or cardiovascular disease, or if you’re at risk for either condition, you must speak with a periodontist who can develop a treatment or prevention plan that will reduce your risk for serious health conditions in the future.