Don’t Let Your Gums Bite your Heart

Happening Issue 60 Jul, 2010

Wake up in the morning, put a brush in your mouth, move it around for a minute or two and spit out the mixture with a splash of reddish tinge. Some do get worried and try to resolve the problem, while others have taken it as routine and don’t even bother. Furthermore, few even stop cleaning the area because they don’t like the color red.

I get quite a few patients who complain of bleeding gums and are not sure what exactly is causing the problem. Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is one of the most common infections — often more prevalent than the common cold. Common signs of  gum disease include bad breath, bleeding gums or pus between the teeth. Left untreated, this chronic infection can destroy the bone that supports the teeth and may lead to tooth loss.

However, once the disease has progressed it requires a long-term follow up and maintenance, which patients don’t seem to agree with. I have heard this line before, “you go to a dentist once, and he keeps calling you back.” Although it is true in a sense, the fact is that this is how it works. I personally believe in telling a patient, “You have a problem” and making him/her understand all the consequences behind the disease.

The American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) is concerned about new research linking gum disease to heart attack or stroke. A recent study presented at a  meeting of the American Association for the advancement of science suggests that the bacteria responsible for gum disease may trigger blood clots, which can contribute to a heart attack or stroke.

Several theories exist to explain the link between periodontal disease and heart disease. One theory is that oral bacteria can affect the heart when they enter the blood stream, attaching to fatty plaques in the coronary arteries (heart blood vessels) and contributing to clot formation. Coronary artery disease is characterized by a thickening of the walls of these arteries due to the build up of fatty proteins. Blood clots can obstruct normal blood flow, restricting the amount of nutrients and oxygen required for the heart to function properly. This may lead to heart attacks.

Another possibility is that the inflammation caused by the periodontal disease increases plaque build up, which may contribute to swelling of the arteries.

Researchers have found that people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease than those without periodontal disease. Another study has concluded that a person with a gum problem is at higher risk of heart disease than someone who smokes cigarettes, which is quite alarming.

Gum disease can also exacerbate existing heart conditions. Patients at risk for infective endocarditis may require antibiotics prior to dental procedures. Your periodontist and cardiologist will be able to determine if your heart condition requires use of antibiotics prior to dental procedures.

Therefore, in my opinion, the rule of the game is for people who are at risk for either cardiovascular disease or have signs of gum disease, to consult a dental surgeon experienced in treating gum disease. Regular periodontal screening and evaluations, treatment, and professional maintenance are critical to the long-term management of periodontal disease. n

Advanced Dental Care, Ph: 4433800, Mobile: 9851016541