Scientists and physicians are beginning to change their minds about what’s most likely to put patients at high risk of cardiovascular disease. For some time now, the key factors were believed to be things like heredity, high cholesterol, a sedentary lifestyle, age and obesity. But now a new component is beginning to emerge as possibly the most critical of them all: inflammation.
Inflammation can be the result of an infected wound. But a more common—and more persistent form—originates not on the skin but inside the mouth. Dentists call this periodontitis, perio, or simply, gum disease.
While periodontitis may result in tooth loss—which is bad enough—we’re discovering apparent links between perio and problems in other parts of the body including diabetes, heart disease, and complications of pregnancy like low-birth weight babies.
Although the jury is still out and the relationships are complex, the essence of the problem is this: periodontitis is an infection that can be picked up by the blood in the gums (and there’s plenty there) and spread where it can do additional dirty work. That’s why stopping the spread of perio—or better, preventing it in the first place—is important for reasons that go way beyond saving teeth.
Perio and the Heart
Studies in Finland noted that heart attack patients tended to have more severe oral infections like tooth decay and gum disease. Another study, following healthy patients over an 18-year period, suggested gum disease sufferers were twice as likely to die of a heart attack and nearly three times as likely to die of stroke. Other studies suggest that periodontitis is associated not only with heart attack and stroke, but is linked to a thickening of the artery wall, which typically hastens heart attack.
Protect Your Gums
Recently, oral biologists at the University of Buffalo have shown that levels of two inflammatory proteins known to raise the risk of heart disease can be reduced substantially by regularly treating inflamed gums. Blood samples drawn from patients with high levels of C-reactive protein (a known heart disease risk) and fibrinogen (which can promote blood clotting) were observed and reduced over 12 months simply through aggressive treatment of gum disease. This is exciting news!
We’re learning more about the relationship between inflammation, sore gums, teeth, heart disease, and other ailments every single day. We’re also learning what an additionally harmful effect tobacco use has on these relationships.
Gum Disease plus Smoking
Within the past few years, the U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Richard Carmona, M.D., issued a report which, in part, concluded “evidence is sufficient to infer a causal relationship between smoking and periodontitis”—not to mention cancer of the oral cavity.
Do you smoke? Do you have sore, inflamed gums? Are you worried about your heart’s health, and how much time may still be available to enjoy your life and family?
What to Do
Fighting periodontal disease through outstanding daily hygiene and regular dental appointments is a three-for-the-price-of-one proposition: protect your gums, protect your teeth, and protect your health in general. If it’s been a while since your last dental examination, let the dentists and hygienists at Samuels Dental Arts P.C. help you! Give one of our friendly ladies a call at 717-778-4268.