Poor Oral Health and the Increased Risk for Heart Disease 

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Andrew Slavin, DMD, FACS

Andrew Slavin, DMD, FACS

October 15, 2018

It has been thought for many years by medical personnel that a connection existed between poor oral health and heart disease. The most recent research available now seems to be supporting the notion that there’s a direct link between the two. While that connection may not seem obvious to the casual observer, dental professionals have long considered periodontal disease to be a risk factor for heart disease.

Gum disease is brought on by an uncontrolled proliferation of bacteria, and a good portion of this country’s population is thought to have at least a mild form of gum disease. Early-stage gum disease may not be particularly noticeable, but in the more advanced stages, it can be a real problem. At that point, it becomes likely that some kind of treatment for the gums, or even surgical intervention, will be necessary.

What is gum disease?

Gum disease generally begins with the growth of bacteria in your mouth, especially at the base of the teeth, where plaque can build up. This early stage of gum disease is referred to as gingivitis, and is characterized by an inflammation of the gums, along with a tendency to bleed during brushing. At this point, the gums may be strongly irritated, but no permanent tissue damage has occurred.

If gingivitis is detected and treated, no further damage will happen. If it goes undetected and untreated, gingivitis can worsen into periodontitis, and that will cause more serious issues. During this more advanced stage of gum disease, both gum and bone can recede from the teeth to form small spaces between the teeth and gums. Once this happens, food particles can collect there, causing infection to develop.

The body’s immune system activates to combat this infection, and along with the toxins already in place, it can break down bone and tissue which were holding the teeth in place. In even more advanced stages, these recesses can deepen, with more and more bone and tissue being permanently destroyed. Since the surrounding teeth are no longer strongly anchored, they can become dislodged, and loss of teeth will occur.

Connection between poor oral health and heart disease

It has been very challenging for researchers to discover any kind of direct link between these two medical conditions. However, the nature of the link between gum disease and heart disease appears to be that uncontrolled spread of oral bacteria. When an individual does not practice good dental hygiene, it’s much more likely that oral inflammations can occur. When that happens, the bacterial proliferation has a chance to enter the bloodstream and travel all throughout the body.

That means bacteria can also reach the heart. While a very healthy heart is somewhat protected against the invading bacteria, a heart which has any kind of issues may be vulnerable. If any part of the heart is damaged and undergoes attack by invasive bacteria, the damage will be worsened, sometimes quite significantly. It now appears that cardiovascular issues such as atherosclerosis, endocarditis and strokes are all either triggered or worsened by oral bacteria.

Effects of early-stage gum disease

The effects described above are characteristic of advanced stage gum disease, but most dental professionals now believe that even early-stage gum disease can cause problems. Early-stage gum disease can take the form of persistently swollen gums, or noticeable bleeding while eating or brushing your teeth. In some cases, there may even be some noticeable changes in the spacing of teeth or in the appearance of the gums.

These indicators are best handled by scheduling a dental appointment as soon as possible, since they have the potential to escalate into full-blown gum disease. Anyone who is scheduling periodic dental visits is likely to be less at risk of developing unnoticed gum issues. This, in fact, is one of the major reasons why dental professionals encourage regular checkups. When gum issues can be identified early on, steps can be taken to prevent them from worsening and affecting a patient’s general health.


Andrew Slavin, DMD, FACS

Andrew Slavin, DMD, FACS

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