Fact vs. Fiction: The Gum Disease-Heart Disease Myth

Thursday, July 13, 2023
Fact vs. Fiction: The Gum Disease-Heart Disease Myth

You may not think your mouth’s health and heart’s health have much to do with each other. But research reveals strong connections between heart health and oral health. Specifically, gum disease and heart disease are linked.

To be clear, the idea that gum disease directly causes heart disease is a myth. Medical experts are still studying the link. But at Penn Dental Family Practice (PDFP) we want patients to be aware a link exists. Prioritizing dental health can only improve overall health and well-being.

A man in a dental chair smiles as masked dentists show him an X-ray of his mouth showing no evidence of gum disease and heart disease.What Is Gum Disease?

Gum disease, also called periodontal disease, is a chronic bacterial infection affecting the gums and the bone surrounding and supporting the teeth. It is caused when plaque builds on the teeth and gums’ surface. The bacteria in plaque can cause inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and eventually the bone (periodontitis). If left untreated, it can lead to tooth loss.

Common symptoms of periodontal disease include:

  • Red, swollen, or tender gums.
  • Bleeding gums during brushing or flossing.
  • Receding gums.
  • Chronic bad breath or taste.
  • Loose teeth.
  • Visible pus around teeth and gums.
  • Formation of pockets between teeth and gums.

A doctor sits on a couch with a senior man at home, taking the man’s blood pressure. Gum disease and heart disease are linked.What Is the Connection Between Gum Disease and Heart Disease?

People with gum disease are at a higher risk of heart disease than those without it. The reason for this correlation isn’t entirely clear. It has given rise to a gum disease-heart disease myth—the notion that the former directly causes the latter.

But research does suggest the same bacteria in the mouth that cause gum disease can travel into your bloodstream and cause inflammation in your arteries, a condition called atherosclerosis. This inflammation can raise the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and stroke.

Gum disease is also associated with a higher risk of chronic inflammation throughout the body. Chronic inflammation can contribute to heart disease.

Chronic inflammation is further associated with damage to blood vessels and has been linked to other health problems, including rheumatoid arthritis.

Can Bad Teeth Also Cause Heart Problems?

When examining links between oral health and heart disease, we should look at connections between teeth and heart health, too.

Tooth decay and heart disease may be linked in the same way gum disease and heart disease are linked. Cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth can enter the bloodstream, leading to inflammation throughout the body and an increased risk of heart disease.

Additionally, these bacteria contribute to the formation of plaque in arteries. This arterial plaque can lead to atherosclerosis, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Poor dental health may also contribute to such other heart disease risk factors as high blood pressure and obesity.

A woman stands before a bathroom mirror, towel around her neck, brushing her teeth to manage the oral health and heart disease link.What Can You Do To Maintain Healthy Teeth and Gums?

Maintaining oral health and heart health includes maintaining healthy teeth and gums. Take these key steps:

  • Brush your teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss daily to remove plaque from between teeth and along your gum line.
  • Eat a balanced diet, limiting sugary and starchy foods and drinks.
  • Manage any chronic conditions such as diabetes that can increase the risk of gum disease.
  • If applicable, stop smoking or using other tobacco products.

Finally, stick to a schedule of regular dental checkups and professional cleanings.

Further research will no doubt dispel the gum disease-heart disease myth and shed more light on the specific relationship between these conditions. But taking the best possible care of your teeth and mouth now has no downside.

Regular visits to PDFP help you and your family stay in good oral health, which only benefits your overall health. Schedule your appointment online or call us at 215-898-PDFP (7337).

Do you want more information about the benefits of regular oral health care? Download our free eBook, Why Dental Care Benefits My Whole Family Tree.