Brushing your teeth every day keeps them cleaner, improves your breath, and reduces plaque buildup. But did you know that there may be a connection between your dental health and chronic illness? Some scientific evidence suggests that poor dental health may be linked to cardiovascular disease. Although more research is needed to explore this association, it provides yet another reason to brush your teeth twice per day, floss daily, and visit your dentist regularly.
Over 2,400 people die from cardiovascular disease each day, making it an immense public health problem. Cardiovascular disease occurs when arteries become harder, making it more difficult for blood to easily pass through your circulatory system. Plaques also build up in your blood vessels, further restricting blood flow. Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, affects nearly 75% of the U.S. population, according to the American Academy of Periodontology. It is a chronic inflammatory condition that can cause bone and gum tissue to deteriorate, causing bad breath, swollen or bleeding gums, sensitive teeth, and loose teeth.
If periodontal disease affects your teeth and cardiovascular disease affects your heart, what’s the connection between the two? Scientists have known for years that the two conditions share several risk factors. Increasing age, cigarette smoking, and type 2 diabetes increase your risk of developing both periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease. None of these risk factors, however, explain the causal mechanism connecting the two conditions.
According to a 2009 review article by the editors of the American Journal of Cardiology and the Journal of Periodontology, one possible explanation is inflammation. Moderate to severe periodontal disease triggers chronic systemic inflammation, affecting not only your mouth but also your circulatory system, leading to cardiovascular disease. Another hypothesis is that bacteria from your mouth can cause heart disease. People with periodontal disease have billions of bacteria and other microorganisms teeming in their mouths. Chewing food and brushing your teeth release these bacteria into the bloodstream. The Harvard Heart Letter reports that the types of bacteria that cause periodontitis have been associated with plaque buildup in your arteries.
Not all scientific findings have shown a relationship between the two conditions. In April 2012, the American Heart Association published a scientific statement in the journal Circulation denying that gum disease causes heart attacks or stroke. The American Dental Association’s Council on Scientific Affairs and the World Heart Federation also endorsed the statement, agreeing that there is no conclusive evidence that the conditions are related. More scientific research needs to be performed to determine the exact relationship between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease.
Although the scientific evidence has been mixed, periodontal disease can be very harmful to your health even if it does not lead to cardiovascular disease. It is important to reduce your risk of gum disease by careful tooth brushing, frequent flossing, and regular trips to the dentist.
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