There is an orthodontic model showing the inside of a tooth

Oral Health and Coronary Artery Disease & Stroke

Gum disease is an infection of the tissues that surround and support your teeth. It’s usually the result of poor oral hygiene that allows a build-up of plaque, the sticky substance made from leftover food particles and saliva that grows on surfaces within the mouth. Bacteria in dental plaque along with their toxins break down gum tissues.

The early stage of gum disease is referred to as gingivitis. Left untreated, it can turn into periodontal disease where the gums become loose around the root of the tooth. Eventually, the infection and inflammation can cause the tooth to loosen. Often the tooth falls out. This is why periodontal disease is a major cause of tooth loss in adults.

Periodontal Disease Affects Cardiovascular Health

Cardiovascular disease is the number one leading cause of death in the United States. People with periodontal disease have two to three times the risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiovascular event. While research has not yet found a direct link, there are several theories which may explain the link between heart disease, stroke and periodontal disease.

When bacteria from the mouth enter the blood vessels, they attach to fatty plaques in the heart blood vessels (coronary arteries). This build-up may lead to heart attacks and/or stroke.

When bacteria enter the bloodstream, inflammation, the body’s natural response to infection, occurs. This leads to a narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries). Atherosclerosis makes it more difficult for your blood to flow to and from your heart, which then leads to heart disease and stroke.

Severe inflammation in the gum tissue can also elevate levels of C-reactive proteins which have been linked to heart disease.

Research also found that one specific bacterium linked to periodontitis, Streptococcus sanguis, spreads to the heart once it enters the body. This bacterium also plays a role in strokes. Additional research links the bacteria to a thickening of the carotid (neck) arteries which carry blood to the brain.

Warning Signs of Periodontitis

According to the American Association of Periodontology, you may have gum disease, if:

  • gums are red, swollen and sore to the touch
  • gums bleed when you eat, brush or floss
  • you see pus or other signs of infection around the gums and teeth
  • gums look as if they are “pulling away” from the teeth
  • you frequently have bad breath or notice a bad taste in your mouth
  • some of your teeth are loose, or feel as if they are moving away from the other teeth

If you notice any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your dentist. The sooner you seek care, the better your chances of reversing any damage from periodontitis.

Risk Factors for Gum Disease

Besides poor dental hygiene, these factors can increase your risk of periodontitis:

  • smoking or chewing tobacco
  • older age
  • hormonal changes, such as those related to pregnancy or menopause
  • substance abuse
  • obesity
  • inadequate nutrition, including vitamin C deficiency
  • genetics
  • certain medications that cause dry mouth or gum changes
  • conditions that cause decreased immunity, such as leukemia, HIV/AIDS and cancer treatment
  • certain diseases, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease

How to Manage Gum Disease When You Have Heart Disease

Good oral hygiene can prevent gum disease. Follow these steps to maintain healthy teeth and gums.

  • Practice regular dental care, which includes brushing after every meal and before bedtime, and flossing at least once a day
  • Visit your dentist twice a year for a professional cleaning. When plaque accumulates, it can mineralize, trapping stains and turning into tartar. Once tartar has formed, only your dentist or hygienist can remove it

Dental Members With Heart Disease

Periodontal (gum) disease can also exacerbate existing heart conditions. Some dental plan members who have heart disease may require antibiotics prior to dental procedures.

Enhanced Dental Benefits for Patients With Heart Disease

Florida Blue Dental’s Oral Health for Overall Health program provides plan members diagnosed with coronary artery disease or who’ve suffered a stroke, with enhanced dental benefits when enrolled in our program. These benefits have been shown to improve not only oral health, but also help you better manage heart disease.

Learn more about the [enrollment process]().