Researchers have known for many years now that dental plaque is linked to heart disease. Although they’re not sure exactly why this correlation exists, it’s clear that people with gum disease or excessive dental plaque are at a greater risk of developing heart issues.
Here are seven truths to know about the link between dental plaque and heart health:
1. Dental plaque and plaque in the arteries are not the same substance.
Although there is a connection between dental plaque and heart disease, dental plaque and arterial plaque are very different. Dental plaque is a layer of bacteria that builds up on the teeth, and arterial plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, and calcium deposits in the artery wall.
2. Plaque leads to gum disease.
Whenever you eat or drink, plaque forms on your teeth. If the plaque stays for a prolonged period of time, it releases acids that attack tooth enamel. Because the plaque is very sticky, the acids stay in contact with the teeth and eventually cause tooth decay and gum disease.
Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease. It causes swollen and tender gums, and it sometimes causes bleeding. If untreated, it can become severe periodontal disease, and the bacteria from the plaque can destroy the teeth and supporting bones.
3. Gum disease is linked to heart disease.
Simply having some plaque on your teeth doesn’t put you at risk for a heart attack, but severe gum disease is correlated with heart disease and a number of other illnesses, including diabetes, dementia, and rheumatoid arthritis. A higher percentage of people with gum disease have poor heart health than people with healthy teeth and gums. Researchers haven’t come to a conclusion on what causes this link, but they have two suggestions: toxins and inflammation.
4. Toxins in the mouth can increase plaque in the arteries.
The first theory about the connection between dental and heart health is that toxins and bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream. In some studies, researchers have found oral bacteria that causes gum disease in the plaque of the arteries.
If you have gum disease, chewing could release toxins into the bloodstream. These toxins are similar to proteins found in the artery walls, and the immune system’s response to the toxins could cause blood clots or damage to the vessel walls.
5. Inflammation in the mouth can cause inflammation in the arteries.
The other theory is that inflammation in the mouth, which occurs as a result of gum disease, can cause inflammation throughout the entire body. Toxins from your mouth could travel to your liver, and the liver may respond by releasing more inflammation-causing proteins. If the arteries become inflamed, it can lead to a stroke or heart attack.
6. Gum disease and heart disease have some of the same risk factors.
Many of the same lifestyle choices that increase your risk of heart disease also increase your risk of gum disease. Some people who have heart disease and gum disease may have developed both conditions as a result of one action.
For example, smoking and tobacco use is one of the biggest risk factors for both conditions. Smoking can cause direct damage to the heart and blood vessels, but it can also increase plaque buildup on the teeth and lead to gum disease. Poor nutrition can also cause heart and gum issues. Gum disease begins as an infection from bacteria, and poor nutrition reduces your body’s ability to fight it off.
In some cases, gum disease may cause heart problems. In other cases, gum disease and heart problems may both be caused by a third factor, like a diet or lifestyle choice.
7. Plaque buildup is preventable.
Fortunately, you can lower your risk of gum disease and heart disease by reducing plaque buildup on your teeth. Brush your teeth twice per day or after each meal, and floss at least once per day. Use a mouthwash to kill bacteria after you eat, and drink plenty of water to prevent bacteria from forming in your mouth. Visit your dentist regularly for checkups. If you do develop gum disease, it’s important to treat it as early as possible.