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What Is the Connection between Periodontal Disease and Heart Disease?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2016
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Periodontal disease and heart disease appear to be linked, as patients with a history of periodontal disease are more likely to experience heart problems. The exact nature of the connection is unclear, although researchers have some theories about why patients with bad teeth are at higher risk for heart disease. Regular dental appointments can reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease and stroke by keeping the teeth and gums healthy and in good condition.

In periodontal disease, a patient develops buildups of dental plaque on and around the teeth. Plaque includes bacteria, food, oral secretions, and other materials, leading to inflammation in the gums. It can cause considerable discomfort as well as bad breath, difficulty eating, and increased sensitivity to hot, cold, and intense flavors. Patients become more susceptible to oral infections, and the link between periodontal disease and heart disease starts here, with bacteria and their byproducts potentially entering the bloodstream.

Bacterial infections of the bloodstream can put patients at serious risk, and may damage the heart. Even if this doesn't occur, byproducts like bacterial toxins appear to trigger inflammation; patients with periodontal disease tend to have higher levels of C-reactive protein, a compound made by the liver when inflammation is present. This suggests that periodontal disease and heart disease have an inflammatory connection, where the gum disease leads to systemic inflammation, and potentially puts a heavy load on the heart.

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Research on periodontal disease and heart disease suggests that bacterial byproducts can adhere to arterial plaque, clotting blood vessels and impairing heart function. These plaques make the heart work harder and harden the arteries, making them more vulnerable to health problems. They can also break off and cause damage to the heart or stroke, where the brain's blood supply experiences an interruption. Inflammation can trigger faster plaque buildup, so compounds making plaques bigger are also making the body produce more arterial plaque.

The precise link between periodontal disease and heart disease is still a topic of research. Studies on a wide variety of populations show a clear connection between oral health and heart health, suggesting that regular dental care should go on the list of recommendations to prevent heart disease. This is true of animals as well as humans; pets require regular dental care to remove dental plaque and address bad teeth, with the goal of preventing potentially serious complications of periodontal disease like endocarditis, where bacteria enters the bloodstream and colonizes the heart.

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