Can brushing and flossing actually save your life? Researchers are asking that question as they learn more about the link between periodontal (gum) disease and heart disease.
Periodontal disease is caused by poor oral hygiene. By brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day, you remove plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that forms on teeth. If you skip flossing or brushing, then the bacteria will irritate and inflame the gums, causing the gum tissue to pull away from the teeth and create pockets. More bacteria settle into these pockets, and if left untreated, can destroy the bone and tissue holding the teeth in place. Periodontal disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in Americans over the age of 35.
Now it's been linked to heart disease, too. The bacterial byproducts from gum disease enter the bloodstream and trigger the liver to make a certain kind of protein that can inflame the arteries and cause blood clots that could clog the arteries, leading to heart attack and stroke, according to a study published in the Journal of Periodontology.
"The mouth is the gateway to the entire body," explained Dr. Charles Laun, a dentist at Coast Dental South Lakeland. "Everything that's in your mouth, from the food you eat to the bacteria that forms, winds up in your body."
Researchers have found that people with gum disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease as people without gum disease, according to the American Academy of Periodontology. Periodontal disease can also worsen existing heart conditions, researchers report. Patients who have had a cardiac procedure within the previous year and patients at risk of endocarditis, which is an infection of the inner lining of the heart, may require an antibiotic prior to dental procedures that cut the gum and allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream.
How do you know if you have gum disease?
"The best thing patients can do is make sure the dentist takes measurements around their teeth," Dr. Laun advised. "Many patients tell me they have never had their gums probed before. I tell them, you need to know what's happening under the gum line as well as above. It's like looking at the walls of your house. You can paint them and make them look pretty, but if you have termites, then the walls are eventually going to fall down - and the damage is going to be much more extensive and expensive to fix. If you have bacteria attacking the bone and tissue holding your teeth in place, then the problem needs to be treated and eliminated."
In addition to saving your teeth, you could be helping your heart. Now that's a reason to love your dentist!
Chuck Laun, DDS, has been a practicing dentist since 1983. The South Lakeland dentist provides general dentistry services to patients age 8 and older. Services include bone grafting, crown lengthening, dental implant restorations, extractions, gummy smile, periodontal disease management, ridge augmentation, root canal therapy and retreatment, TMJ disorders, veneers, Lumineers and cosmetic, restorative dentistry and Clear Correct invisible braces. He owned his own practice for more than 24 years in California before relocating to Florida in 2007. He currently practices at Coast Dental South Lakeland, 4744 South Florida Avenue, Lakeland, Florida 33813. The phone number is (863) 644-1226.
Written by: Beth Gaddis
Reviewed by: Charles Laun, DMD
Reviewed by: Cindy Roark, DMD