Why gum health is heart health

Gum disease — a chronic inflammation of the gums known medically as periodontal disease — has been shown to have a strong association with atherosclerosis. Here's how to reduce your risk.

Why gum health is heart health

Why it's important

  • A study in which samples of dental plaque (the sticky substance that accumulates on teeth) were taken from 659 people with an average age of 69 revealed that those with higher levels of four bacteria known to cause periodontal disease had thicker arterial walls in the carotid arteries supplying the brain.
  • This sign of atherosclerosis is a strong predictor of the risk of strokes and heart attacks.

Dental treatment

  • In one study, researchers in Australia and Norway tested the blood of their subjects for blood-clot risk factors and inflammation before and after dental treatment.
  • They noted a marked reduction in risk factors after treatment, which strongly suggests that eliminating advanced gum disease could effectively reduce the risk of heart attacks or strokes.
  • People with severe periodontal disease are almost four times as likely to have had a heart attack as those with no evidence of the disease.
  • And recent research indicates that having extensive gum disease also doubles your risk of diabetes.

Early warnings

Older people, smokers, tooth-grinders and those under stress have an increased risk of gum disease. Early treatment can guard against future damage to arteries, so learn to spot the warning signs. These include:

  • Red, swollen or bleeding gums.
  • Gums that bleed when you clean your teeth or floss.
  • Loose teeth and/or gaps appearing between teeth.
  • Gums receding, so teeth look longer.
  • Bad breath.
  • A metallic taste in your mouth.
  • A change in the bite of your teeth or in the fit of partial dentures.

Dental hygiene

Good dental hygiene combined with regular dental checkups is the key to controlling gum disease.

  • Brush with fluoride toothpaste for at least two minutes twice a day.
  • Floss daily (or use a small interdental brush).
  • Visit your dentist every six months. Keep appointments for checkups as often as your dentist recommends to make sure any subtle changes that can herald periodontal diseases, such as inflammation of the gums (gingivitis), are picked up quickly. You should also have regular sessions with a dental hygienist, who will clean areas impossible to reach by brushing and flossing alone.
  • Invest in an antibacterial mouthwash that reduces plaque. (A dental hygienist can remove "calcified" or hardened plaque around your teeth and below your gums.)
  • If you are not sure whether you are cleaning your teeth effectively,ask your dentist or hygienist to check or buy chewable disclosing tablets, which leave a temporary stain on any areas of plaque and indicate where you need to clean more thoroughly. The aim is to make sure that dental plaque doesn't build up on your teeth, which also reduces the risk of sclerotic plaque building up in your arteries.
  • When flossing your teeth, keep to a regular pattern. Start at the top and work from left to right, then move to the bottom. At first it helps to look in the mirror.
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