Gum Specialists and Heart Docs Team Up for your Heart
Health care providers from two seemingly different specialties are teaming up to help you withstand heart disease, one of the leading causes of death in Australia. Data provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed that diseases of the circulatory system, or cardiovascular disease, accounted for 36% of all deaths in 2004. This malady is also a leading cause of premature deaths.
Reducing this toll is something that everyone can support, and these days heart specialists are working with dentists and gum specialists (periodontists), joining forces in what at first glance seems to be an unlikely pairing. So what’s the connection? Periodontal disease can affect as many as 75% of adults in developing countries and is a major cause of tooth loss, but you can’t die from it – or can you?
Researchers have known for over a decade that a link exists between diseased gums and cardiovascular problems, as well as other health issues. Suspected at first was the entry of bacteria from the gums into the bloodstream, and then into the heart. Later research is turning up a more prominent role for inflammation. Apparently, inflammation in one organ of the body can play havoc with the well-being of another – and the teeth aren’t that far from the heart, as the blood corpuscles flow.
Think of it this way: Have you ever stubbed your toe, then walked on it, and then noticed your ankle starting to throb? Well, chewing on inflamed gums – which you have to do if you eat three meals a day – is like walking on that stubbed toe all day, every day! When inflammation, which initially serves as one of the body’s protective mechanisms, becomes chronic, it can lead to breakdown of the affected tissues and eventually cause serious health problems.
Cardiovascular and periodontal disease are both inflammatory diseases. In 2009, an important consensus paper was published jointly by the American Journal of Cardiology (circulated to 30,000 heart specialists) and the Journal of Periodontology (the official publication of the American Academy of Periodontology). This paper called for both medical and dental professionals to take certain pro-active steps in patient care for those patients who are susceptible to – or living with – one or both of these diseases.
So don’t be surprised if your dentist or periodontist starts asking questions about your heart condition, family history or other risk factors for heart disease. We’re not being nosy; this information could be very important in early detection for either trouble. Likewise, if you see a cardiologist, you might one day find him or her checking your mouth for early signs of gum disease, such as inflammation of the tissues and receding gums.
Prediction, Prevention and Cure
The latest research also provides us with some surprising news. it’s true that prevalence of one disease may indicate the concurrence of the other. People with periodontal disease, on the whole, have an incidence of heart disease that is twice as high as people with healthy gums. One study found that by knowing the subjects’ state of oral health – with emphasis on key factors such as gum irritations, cavities or missing teeth – was as good an indicator of heart disease as the more familiar signals like cholesterol levels.
By the same token, having periodontal disease can make heart conditions worse. An example is infective endocarditis. This is an infection of the heart valves and related structures, caused by bacteria and other infectious agents. Patients subject to infective endocaritis are at risk for spreading or triggering of the infectious disease when undergoing dental or periodontal treatment. These patients may need to take antibiotics before undergoing dental procedures. That’s an example of why it is so important for your dentist to take a thorough medical history on your first visit, and to keep your medical records current over time.
Are You At Risk?
It’s all about cooling down and relieving the ‘fire’ of inflammation. We now know that inflammation in one part of the body can affect another body system. If you have been diagnosed some type of inflammatory disease – for example heart disease – we suggest that you consult with your dentist or periodontist for a thorough evaluation of gum disease as well. It’s also important to get evaluated if you have a family history of periodontal disease. Research indicates that the bacteria causing gum infections can spread from one person to another through the saliva, so household members and loved ones of a gum-disease sufferer are at risk, too. That’s something you don’t want to pass around!
At Bite Dental Studio, we take the time to do a thorough examination and recording of your gums with every check-up. We’re on your team of health-care providers working for the brightest teeth, healthiest gums and strongest heart – for you.