How are you? No really,... Are you watching what you eat? Exercising regularly? Feeling at the top of your game? Do you have a terrific primary care physician? How about your teeth and gums? No complaints? Do your gums ever bleed when you brush or floss? They shouldn't. That's a sure sign of problem.
How about bad breath? Are your teeth shifting slightly? Are your gums receding faster than your hairline? Is the gum tissue, right next to your teeth,reddish instead of very light pink? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then all may not be well. Unfortunately, any of those things can be signs of gum disease, and the point of this article is to tell you about this common condition and its recently discovered to heart disease.
I'm not really sure why the word is not getting out faster on this subject given the numbers of folks who might benefit, but here's some of what I know about the connection between heart disease and gum disease....
Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) a leading cause of the heart attacks and strokes kills 700,000 Americans a year and according to the FDA, 75% of the adults over 35, who are reading this article will have active gum disease. I'm guessing many of those folks do not know that research is discovering a growing connection between heart disease and gum disease.
I attended a continuing education course about this very subject a short time ago, and I met with the speaker briefly at lunch to onfirm a shocking statistic that I had heard - Apparently, there is a well-known study that concluded that only about 40% of the people who die from sudden heart attacks have high cholesterol, but close to 70% have gum disease.
Whowa!... Now remember,... the concrete conclusions that can be drawn from this are few, but it does suggest that cardiologists should be insisting that we pay as much attention to dental visits as we d to taking our cholesterol medications!
Do you have a dentist who knows you and your family's health history well? Do you have an evaluation of your gums and dental cleanings at least twice a year? These are important questions, because the state of your gums may impact your susceptibility for heart disease, independent of any other healthy habits you might have. The problem here is a subtle (often completely painless) but serious condition called periodontal disease – often referred to as 'gum disease' or 'pyorrhea'.
Gum disease begins when plaque and tarter builds up under your gums. The bacteria that live in plaque release a steady stream of toxic waste from their own metabolism. (Essentially, they are eating and pooping in your mouth. Sorry, to the squeamish,.. but that's the real truth.) This constant chemical insult provokes an inflammatory response by your immune system; the same response your body would have for any other kind of infection.
Because of this constant infection, the gums are inundated with white blood cells in a 24/7 attempt to curb the infection and that appears to be the crux of the problem. A chemical battleground of substances released by the bacteria and your own white blood cells causes a breakdown and often permanent damage to the tissue that holds your teeth in place.
New research is suggesting that these chemicals initiate a series of other bodily responses that may be connected to arterial disease too.
According to new research, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, heart attack survivors who suffer advanced gum disease show significantly higher levels of a protein in their blood called C-reactive protein (CRP) than such patients without gum disease. "Not only did the heart attack patients with periodontal disease have higher levels of CRP than those without gum disease, but the CRP levels were directly related to the severity of the gum disease," said Dr. E. N. Deliargyris, an interventional cardiologist at UNC-CH. "The more severe the gum disease, the higher the CRP levels." Deliargyris also said, "Now we believe that patients with a heart attack and periodontal disease have an exaggerated inflammatory response with higher CRP levels that might put them at risk for future heart attacks. This work also raises the possibility that by treating severe gum disease in people with heart attacks, we might be able to reduce their CRP levels and their risk of another heart attack."
Other independent research studies have had consistent findings. In a study of over a 1,000 patients, reported in the journal Circulation, people with high levels of periodontal bacteria also had thicker internal linings of their carotid arteries—a major risk factor for stroke. Recently, the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that high levels of periodontal bacteria were related to a higher incidence of heart disease among the 789 participants.
Despite the fact that researchers haven't firmly established the mechanisms at work here, chances are good that there is an important connection between the health of your heart and your gums, even if you are making many other healthy lifestyle choices.
Keep in mind that heredity is a risk factor for both gum disease and heart disease. If either of your parents lost their teeth, then there is a very good chance that they suffered from gum disease. In addition, since oral bacteria are transmissible, it is possible to acquire gum disease from someone who has it. So, that's something to think about if you live with someone with any of the signs that I mentioned at the outset. You might also guess that people who are even at higher risk for gum disease are smokers (70% higher), tobacco chewers, and those with diabetes, osteoporosis, or systemic autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or any conditions which compromise the body's ability to fight infections.
There will be further research to determine exactly how your oral health can impact your cardiovascular health. Nonetheless, it certainly does not hurt to take better care of your gum's health. The good news is that, unlike getting on that treadmill every day, good dental hygiene is pretty simple. All you've got to do is make the time to floss and brush daily (it should take 5 minutes – tops) and be sure that you are a 'frequent flyer' at your dentist's office.
For a quick review – I'm wondering – How are you? If you have any of the signs that I mentioned in the opening of this piece, you're not as good as you thought you were. Even if you don't have any of those specific indicators, it's a certainty that you cannot evaluate yourself in this matter. There are specific measurements and methods that a dentist will use to help you understand your level of gum health and the risks you may face with regard to gum disease. Staving off gum disease might just turn out to be one of the best heart-healthy strategies you can use to live longer and better.Dr. Lynda