Thinking about heart disease may feel a little scary, but increasing research is showing a connection between oral health and heart disease. Our mouth and our heart are more closely connected than we might have thought!
In the UK, gum disease is a present problem, with three in four adults over the age of 35 affected by it. New research focused on the link between dental health and heart health found that people living with mild to advanced gum disease have a greater risk of developing heart disease, compared to individuals with no oral health issues. This can become a risk as “there is robust evidence that poor gum health increases the risk of certain forms of heart disease, and this is most likely due to the fact that people with severe gum disease get bacteria entering their blood stream from their inflamed gums” as explained by professor Iain Chapple, Head of Periodontology within the College of Medical and Dental Sciences at the University of Birmingham.
What are examples of bad oral health?
Poor oral health can occur when we don’t look after our teeth well. The first step in recognising poor health is when gums suffer from inflammation, known as ‘gingivitis’, which usually happens before full gum disease, known as ‘periodontitis’. The warning signs of gingivitis are usually bleeding gums when brushing.
There are several warning signs of more advanced gum disease to be aware of, including:
- Sore, red and swollen gums
- Bleeding gums after eating, brushing or flossing
- Gums look as if they are ‘pulling away’, or receding from the teeth
- Pus or other signs of infection around the gums
- Teeth are loose or feel as if they moving away from other teeth
- Consistent bad breath or a bad taste
Keeping an eye out for these symptoms are a good first step in catching and dealing with early gingivitis or periodontitis, in turn reducing the risk of developing heart disease.
Who is at risk of heart disease?
Technically speaking anyone could develop heart disease, but there are certain factors that can lead to people being more at risk. Cardiovascular (heart) disease is caused by the build-up of fatty deposits inside the arteries, which increases the risk of blood clots.
The people most at risk of heart disease include:
- Those with high blood pressure, as this can damage blood vessels
- People with high cholesterol, which can cause the blood vessels to narrow, increasing the risk of developing blood clots
- Individuals with diabetes, as high blood sugar levels can damage and narrow the blood vessels
- People from a south Asian, Black African or African Caribbean background. Research has found that people from these backgrounds in the UK are more likely to have other risk factors associated with heart disease (such as high blood pressure or diabetes)
- People that are overweight, as the chances of developing diabetes or high blood pressure are increased
- Those with a family history of heart disease, as your risk of developing it genetically are increased
- People who have an unhealthy diet or consume excessive amounts of alcohol. Again, the risk of developing high cholesterol and blood pressure is increased
When someone develops heart disease, their blood vessels are greatly impacted and not able to work at their healthiest capacity. Add into the mix potential bacteria from gum disease or tooth decay, and the risks are increased. This is not to say that people with heart disease are the only ones whose condition might be worsened by gum disease- if an individual develops gum disease, they may have heart vessels that are already vulnerable. Practicing good oral care may be a factor in preventing the development or exacerbation of heart disease.
What are some preventative measures?
By practicing good oral habits, it can be possible to prevent and control gingivitis (inflamed gums) or periodontitis (gum disease). Here are 5 key ways to avoid gum and tooth infection:
- Brush your teeth twice a day for at least 2 minutes, ideally first thing in the morning before breakfast and last thing at night
- Use an electric toothbrush with a rounded head
- Clean between the teeth using floss or interdental brushes
- Book in regular dental health examinations and visits to your hygienist for individual tips and hints on how to clean your teeth most effectively
- Try to avoid smoking or vaping
There are also plenty of ways to decrease the risks of developing heart disease:
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts and proteins
- Maintain an active lifestyle, with the aim to get your heart rate up for 20-30 minutes every day. This doesn’t have to be trips to the gym or fitness classes; a brisk walk also does the trick
- Keep an eye on your weight, and aim to stay within a healthy BMI. Following the advice for a balanced diet and active lifestyle can help you to achieve this
- If you have any specific conditions (such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar or diabetes) then make necessary lifestyle changes to manage these safely
- If you are on medication for conditions that might make you at risk of heart disease, be sure to take them as directed by your doctor
Following all of the advice above is a great way to maintain good oral and physical health in general, particularly reducing the chances of developing gum or tooth infections, or poor cardiovascular health.
Make a start on your dental journey
If you are not yet registered with a dentist and wanting to begin your dental health journey, at Portman Dental Care we have over 200 practices across England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, offering both private and NHS services. Why not find your nearest practice and get in touch to register?
To keep an eye on dental health and prevent the development of infections, it’s important to visit your dentist every 6-12 months, and your hygienist at least once a year. We know that our teeth and heart health are closely linked, and by following the easy steps listed above it is possible to stay both orally and physically healthy so that we can enjoy life, for as long as possible.