Can Gum Disease Cause Heart Problems?
The simple answer to this question is yes, but the path that leads from the gums to the heart is a bit more complex. These days, there’s no question about the link between oral health and overall health – the connection has been well established through an array of studies. However, there is still some question of causality. Does oral health impact overall health, or is it the other way around?
In truth, there are instances of both. Those who suffer from diabetes, for example, may face oral health concerns as a result. One of the complications associated with diabetes is thickening of the blood vessels, which can hinder the delivery of nutrients to tissue and slow the flushing away of bacteria and waste products. This is thought to be a contributing factor to oral health issues in diabetic patients and it could be why diabetics tend to be at much higher risk for developing periodontal disease.
The pathway could also be reversed, though, with oral health issues causing bodily health concerns. Consider, for example, that oral pain could impact a person’s ability and desire to maintain a balanced diet. When your teeth and gums hurt, you simply might not be able to eat the range of healthy foods you’re used to. This can lead to a lack of nutrition that is detrimental to overall health.
However, you may still wonder what gum disease has to do with heart health. Unfortunately, there is a link between the two. How can gum disease cause heart problems? Here’s what you should know.
The Onset of Gum Disease
Gum disease, in and of itself, should never be taken lightly. This condition often results from factors like poor oral hygiene, use of tobacco products, and poor diet, just for example. However, it’s not only linked to behavior. It could also stem from hereditary factors, illness, or side effects from certain medications (like chemotherapy drugs, for example).
The real cause of gum disease, however, is the spread of bacteria in the mouth. When bacteria takes hold below the gum line, it can lead to the formation of plaque and eventually, the buildup of tartar. This can start to irritate the gums, which become inflamed. From there you may start to notice symptoms like redness, swelling, tenderness, and pain or bleeding when brushing teeth.
These are the beginning stages of gum disease, and if you start to notice them, it’s time to visit your dentist. Gum disease is much easier to treat early on. If allowed to progress, it could lead to all kinds of serious oral health issues, and even affect your overall health.
Advanced Gum Disease
As gum disease progresses, more severe symptoms will begin to manifest. Inflammation could worsen to the point that gums begin to pull away from the teeth they support, perhaps leading to loosening of the teeth. Patients could start to notice a foul odor and/or
taste in the mouth. It may become painful to chew as infection spreads to teeth. Your bite pattern may be affected, further impacting your ability to eat.
Minor gum disease, when left untreated, could become gingivitis and then periodontitis. At this point, cavities can form and infection can spread to the pulp of teeth and even into the jaw bone. You are at risk of tooth loss. Growing pockets of infection could become abscesses. This level of infection is likely to be quite painful. However, there is a more serious concern – the spread of bacteria to other areas of the body.
Resulting Heart Problems
It actually doesn’t take much for bacteria from the mouth to get into the blood stream. When gum tissue becomes inflamed, delicate blood vessels could easily become damaged, allowing bacteria a convenient entry point. This is obviously not good, but it’s probably not nearly as bad as advanced infection, such as an abscess, infiltrating the blood stream.
When these pockets of infection roam around the body, they can become lodged in sensitive areas like the brain or the heart. This, in turn, can result in potentially fatal incidents like stroke or heart attack. It’s hard to believe that gum disease could be fatal, but indirectly, it is possible. This is one of many reasons why it’s so important to practice proper oral hygiene at home and visit your dentist for regular examination and cleaning.