Gum Disease and the connection to the Heart
A surprising observation in recent years’ study has shown that people who have poor oral health, such as gum disease or tooth loss, have higher rates of cardiovascular problems such as stroke or heart attack.
Why would cardiovascular disease and poor oral health be connected?
The bacteria that infect the gums and cause gingivitis and periodontics also travel to blood vessels in the body, where they can cause inflammation and cause damage to the blood vessel which may cause tiny blood clots, heart attack, and stroke. Supporting this idea is the finding of remnants of oral bacteria within atherosclerotic blood vessels far from the mouth. Then again, antibiotic treatment has not proven effective in reducing cardiovascular risk.
Rather than bacteria causing the problem, it is the body immune response that causes inflammation that sets of a cascade of vascular damage throughout the body, which includes the heart and brain.
There may be no direct connection between gum disease and cardiovascular disease. The reason they may occur together is that there is a third factor such as smoking, which is a risk factor for both conditions. Other potential ‘co-founders’ include poor access to healthcare and lack of exercise. Perhaps people without health insurance or who don’t take good care of their overall health are more likely to have poor oral health and heart disease.
In a recent study, which is among the largest to look at this question, researchers analysed data from nearly a million people who experience more than 65000 cardiovascular events and found that
– after accounting for age, there was a moderate correlation between tooth loss and coronary heart disease
– when the smoking status was considered, the connection between tooth loss and heart disease largely disappeared
This study suggests that the observed connection between poor oral health does not directly cause heart disease, but if that’s true, how do we explain other studies that found some connection, even after accounting for smoking and other heart risk factors?
The connection between poor oral health and overall health may not be limited to heart disease, studies have also linked periodontal disease and rheumatoid arthritis to oral health. Besides, a 2016 study has also found a link between this bacterium and the risk of pancreatic cancer. However, as in the case of the connection with heart disease, an association is not the same as causation. We will need additional research to figure out the importance of these observations.
Whether the link is direct, indirect, or coincidence, a healthy mouth and a regimen to keep it that way, including not smoking and regular dental care can help you keep your teeth. That is reason enough to do what you can to make oral health a priority. Perhaps it will to on out to have other benefits do much of that remains speculative.