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.
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.
According to the American Association of Periodontology, you may have gum disease, if:
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.
Besides poor dental hygiene, these factors can increase your risk of periodontitis:
Good oral hygiene can prevent gum disease. Follow these steps to maintain healthy teeth and gums.
Periodontal (gum) disease can also exacerbate existing heart conditions. Some dental plan members who have heart disease may require antibiotics prior to dental procedures.
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]().