According to the American Academy of Periodontology, people with periodontal disease (gum disease) are nearly two times more likely to also experience coronary artery disease (heart disease). Certainly a staggering statistic, but the question is; what is the connection?
Dental professionals, and other experts are still unsure what the relationship is between the two conditions. Though many studies have shown that the presence of common dental issues like gingivitis or even cavities are as good at predicting heart disease as cholesterol levels, there is still no evidence that one directly causes the other.
It should be noted that dental plaque and the plaque that collects in the heart are two completely different substances. Dental plaque is a sticky bacterial substance that thrives on food remnants left in your teeth. As it breaks down these food particles it can also release an acidic byproduct that eats away at a tooth’s enamel. Arterial plaque on the other hand is a fatty material that coats the walls of arteries. As this builds up, blood flow can become restricted causing serious medical complications.
So with two very different types of plaque in question, how might one connect to the other?
One thought is that dental plaque might irritate the arteries, causing them to constrict. As dental plaque builds it can eat away at not only tooth enamel, but also the surrounding gums. As it erodes the gums, bleeding may occur – providing a direct stream to the heart. Once in the blood stream, this destructive bacterial substance can begin to irritate the arteries, causing them to tighten. This might result in abnormal blood flow, eventually ending with a heart attack.
Another thought is that as the dental plaque reaches the arteries, it bonds to the pre-existing arterial plaque causing additional blockage. As the two combine, the risk of heart attack or stroke increase as well.
So, while expensive gym memberships and formulated diet regiments may be scientifically proven to reduce the risk of heart disease, proper dental health may be just as important. Again, the research on this subject is yet to be defined, and it is unclear if the two conditions are truly connected. Nonetheless, with the relative ease necessary for proper dental care it might behoove individuals concerned about heart disease to take care of their teeth and gums as a precautionary measure.