How Is Cardiovascular Disease and Poor Oral Health Connected?
Numerous studies have shown that people who have poor oral health, such as severe decay, gum disease or tooth loss have higher rates of cardiovascular problems such as heart attack or stroke than people with good oral health.
A number of theories have been proposed, including:
- Bacteria that infects the gums and causes gingivitis and periodontitis also travels to blood vessels elsewhere in the body where they cause blood vessel inflammation and damage; blood clots, heart attack and stroke may follow. Supporting this idea is the finding of remnants of oral bacteria within atherosclerotic blood vessels far from the mouth.
- The body’s immune response – inflammation – sets off a cascadeof vascular damage throughout the body, including the heart andbrain.
- There may be no direct connection between gum disease andcardiovascular disease; the reason they may occur together is that there is a 3rd factor, such as smoking that’s a risk factor for both conditions. Some factors include poor access to healthcare and lack of exercise that can be causes for poor oral health and heart disease.
A study published in 2018 is among the largest to look at this question. Researchers analyzed data from nearly a million people who experienced more than 65,000 cardiovascular events (including heart attack) and found that:
- After accounting for age, there was a moderate correlation between tooth loss (a measure of poor oral health) and coronary heart disease.
- When smoking status was considered, the connection between tooth loss and cardiovascular disease largely disappeared
This study suggests that poor oral health does not directly cause cardiovascular disease. But if that’s true, how do we explain other studies that found a connection even after accounting for smoking and other cardiovascular risk factors?
It’s rare that a single study definitively answers a question that has been pondered by researchers (and clinicians) for decades. So, additional studies will be needed to find a definitive answer.
The connection between poor oral health and overall health may not only be limited to cardiovascular disease. Studies have linked periodontal disease (especially if due to infection with a bacterium called porphyromonas gingivalis) and rheumatoid arthritis. Additionally, a 2018 study found a link between this same bacterium and risk of pancreatic cancer. However, as in the case of the connection with heart disease, an “association” is not the same as causation; additional research is needed to figure out the importance of these observations.
The Bottom Line
Whether the link is direct or indirect or coincidence, a healthy mouth regimen is the best way to help you keep your teeth. Your health is your number one asset, so taking care of yourself should be your number one priority. Stay healthy, keep flossing and visit your dentist on a regular basis – at least twice a year.
The office of Kevin M. Christ, DMD is located in Centennial, Colorado. You may contact us at 303-792-9100 or visit our website at: https://5280dentist.com
September 29, 2021