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How Dental Health Can Affect Heart Health

gumWhen a person has periodontitis, advanced periodontal (gum) disease, the mouth is like a battlefield. Millions of bacteria are fighting their way in, taking shelter in the soft tissues of the gums. Then, they fire their nasty, infectious strains through the blood stream. Initial losses include teeth, which may fall out. Unexpected victims, however, may be the arteries and, ultimately, the heart.

Although there has been no definitive proof that gum disease causes heart disease, the links between the two are becoming stronger. If you have periodontal disease, it could be an early warning sign of cardiovascular disease, the #1 killer of Americans. In fact, one out of four people in the U.S. dies of heart disease every year – a staggering 610,000 people. Isn’t that reason enough to heed all possible warnings?

What is periodontal disease, and what causes it?

Periodontal disease is an infection in the soft tissue of the gums. Gingivitis, the milder form of gum disease, causes redness, swelling and irritation of the gingiva, the gum area around the base of your teeth. If it isn’t treated, it can lead to the more serious periodontitis. This serious infection affects the soft tissue around the teeth and destroys the bone that supports them. When periodontitis is left to fester, the results can be devastating. You can lose your teeth, and it may also up your risk for contracting other diseases, including heart disease.

How can gum disease increase the risk for heart disease?

Inflammation, the body’s response to infection, is common in both. With periodontal disease, the gums become swollen and inflamed as a result of infection. When a person with gum disease chews or even brushes their teeth, the oral bacteria are swept to other parts of the body through the bloodstream, invoking a similar response in the arteries. The inflammation there is a buildup of plaque that hardens and clogs the arteries (arteriosclerosis), restricting blood flow to the organs. If the arteries are so clogged and thickened, there can be a blood clot. If a clot breaks apart, it can cause a heart attack or stroke.

How is periodontal disease diagnosed?

Obviously, the earlier the diagnosis of periodontal disease, the sooner it can be treated. The problem is that people often don’t pay attention to the warning signs, and don’t go for regular dental health checkups. These symptoms could signal the presence of gum disease:

  • Red, swollen gums
  • Bleeding when brushing or flossing
  • Receding gums that show more tooth than normal
  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Pus that appears between teeth and gums
  • Mouth sores
  • Persistent bad breath
  • A change in occlusion, the way the teeth meet when they bite down
  • A change in the way dentures fit

Prompt diagnosis is key to treating gum disease. The bottom line: clear up the infection and close the pocket that harbors bacteria in the gums.

What is the best way to prevent gum disease and keep your heart healthy?

Taking care of your total health can help lessen your risks for a variety of diseases, including gum disease and heart disease. According to a study in the American Journal of Medicine, people who regularly use a plaque-fighting toothpaste to brush their teeth more thoroughly can lower the risk of inflammation that triggers heart attacks. For those who already have coronary heart disease, maintaining good oral health is important to keep it at bay. Also, by ensuring that your teeth remain healthy (and still in your mouth), you can reduce your risk of cardiac incidents. The European Journal of Preventive Cardiology reported in 2015 that people with no teeth showed:

  • 27 percent greater risk of major cardiovascular events (such as heart attack)
  • 85 percent greater risk of death due to heart disease
  • 67 percent greater risk of stroke
  • 81 percent greater risk of all causes of death

For people who still have some teeth, the risk increases about six percent for each tooth lost.

There are some easy ways you can take care of your oral health and lessen your chances for heart disease caused by poor dental habits:

  • Brush your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day
  • Floss your teeth daily
  • Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Replace your toothbrush every three months
  • Schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings

How you can help others maintain good dental health by becoming a dental assistant

If you’re looking for an in-demand career that also makes a difference in people’s health, consider becoming a dental assistant. Northwestern College offers a comprehensive, hands-on certificate program that will prepare you to work in any type of dental facility in just one year. Your role in a dental office is invaluable to its smooth operations. You will learn to set up the instruments a doctor needs for any given procedure; take molds and custom impressions of teeth to create special appliances; take X-rays; and set up bleaching trays. During your 120-hour required externship, you’ll actually work in a real dental office where you will work on real patients.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for dental assistants is expected to grow 19 percent from 2016 to 2026 – much faster than average for other occupations. If you think your future career could be as a dental assistant, contact Northwestern College today.