Many people think of hearts and Valentine’s Day when you mention February. In the medical/dental world, we think about American Heart awareness month. You’ve heard us say time and again that oral health is linked to overall health. Most individuals treat their mouth separately from the rest of their body without realizing that what goes on in their mouth has a large correlation to many other health issues. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the US. It’s estimated that 1 in every 4 deaths is due to heart disease. Periodontal disease affects nearly 50% of individuals with over 70% prevalence in adults age 65 and older. So how are these 2 very common diseases related?
Let’s start by saying there have been no studies that have PROVEN poor oral health causes heart disease. The studies do show a strong correlation between the two. Typically, dental studies most commonly discuss bacteria. As you may know, our mouths contain a lot of bacteria; anywhere between 100-200 or more different strains at any given time! That means millions or billions of bacteria are living in your oral cavity. Many are helpful or harmless, but some are disease-causing. It is these bacteria that have been found in blood vessels causing inflammation, just as they do in our gums.
That bacteria cause problems to your heart and blood vessels, as does your body’s natural inflammatory response. When you suffer from gingivitis or periodontal disease, your body reacts with its usual inflammatory response. This doesn’t just occur in your mouth because the inflammatory response is a nonspecific reaction to pathogens, damaged cells and/or toxins that takes place throughout your entire body (you can learn more about the damage it causes here). It is this reaction to oral pathogens that “sets off a cascade of vascular damage throughout the body, including the heart and brain.” (Harvard).
Another correlation between poor oral health and heart disease is smoking. Smoking is a known risk factor for both diseases and may present the link between the two. A 2018 study, analyzed data from a million people who had different cardiovascular events and found that:
- Accounting for age, a moderate correlation was found between tooth loss and coronary heart disease (the most common type of heart disease).
- After accounting for smoking the correlation largely disappeared.
We could conclude that smoking may very well be the missing piece of the mouth to heart puzzle, but more studies are needed for a definitive answer.
Whether the correlations are direct or coincidental, it’s obvious that these 2 common diseases are linked in some way. We are here to help team up with you to improve your oral health. Whether you need help for tobacco cessation or a discussion on homecare tips, we will tailor treatment and preventative plans to your specific needs. We strive to stay up to date with the newest research, and will share that with you as more studies come out on this topic. As always our #1 goal is to help you achieve the healthiest mouth possible, and we thank you for trusting us on your journey to improved oral health!
Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/heart-disease-prevention/faq-20057986
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
Inflammatory responses and inflammation-associated diseases in organs https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5805548/