Healthy gums mean healthy arteries

Discussions about the link between oral health and heart disease has been rumbling on for many years. A study of over 11,000 people in Scotland in 2010 showed that poor oral hygiene was associated with higher risks of cardiovascular disease.

And now, new research shows there may be a connection between serious gum disease (periodontal disease) and the build up of fatty deposits on the lining of artery walls which can lead to blood clots causing atheroscelerotic disease (ASVD).

There have been more than 50 studies looking into whether periodontal disease puts people at greater risk of ASVD. In a recent assessment of all the literature the American Heart Association stated that the relationship between periodontal disease and ASVD is potentially a massive pubic health issue of because of the growing prevalence of gum disease in the general population.

Dr Brian Clapp from Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital London says the gum disease/heart disease link is interesting and complex. ‘Some argue that it is a direct effect of bacteria being involved in both processes. Most people including myself think that this is an epiphenomenon or a secondary symptom which may be unrelated to the original disease or disorder’ he says.

‘Nevertheless, there is no doubt that poor dental health correlates with an increased inflammatory state within the body (probably by a causal relationship) and this increased level of inflammation which can be measured by the increased levels of C-reactive protein in the blood, leads to increased atherosclerosis’ says Dr Clapp.

New research from Bristol University has recently shown that dental plaque may actually trigger blood clots in other parts of the body. Researchers found that streptococcus gordonii which normally inhabits the mouth can cause problems when it enters the bloodstream via bleeding gums. The theory is that the bacteria mimics the clotting factor, fibrinogen which in turn activates platelets causing them to clump together inside the blood vessels.

Signs of gum disease include:

Gums that bleed when you brush your teeth

  • Blood in your saliva
  • Red, swollen gums
  • Bad breath
  • Wobbly or loose teeth
  • Abscessed teeth
  • Tooth loss

The good news is that brushing your teeth properly and looking after your gums can prevent and treat gum disease, improve your overall health and help reduce your risk of health problems, such as heart disease. It’s important to have a routine of brushing your teeth for a full two minutes twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, plus cleaning between your teeth with floss or interdental brushes.

Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, says: ‘The link between oral health and overall body health is well documented and backed by robust scientific evidence. Despite this, only one in six people realises that gum disease may place them at an increased risk of stroke or diabetes. And only one in three is aware of the heart disease link.’

Dr Carter recommends visiting your dentist and dental hygienist regularly for cleaning and check-ups. It’s especially important to look after your teeth and gums if you’re pregnant. NHS dental care is free for pregnant women and during the 12 months after you’ve given birth.

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