If you’ve been diagnosed with gum disease, periodontal disease or periodontitis recently, do not beat yourself up. You are NOT alone. According to the ADA, 42% of adults over 30 have moderate to severe periodontitis. And the problem gets worse as we get older.
The good news is that—with better dental hygiene and some help from your dentist—you can bounce back from gum disease and keep your natural teeth. The great news is that by developing better dental hygiene, you’ll also be protecting yourself from heart disease.
What is gum disease?
Healthy mouths are home to over 700 strains of bacteria. Some of these bacteria are good for you. But in mouths with gum disease, the bad bacteria outnumber the good and an infection is likely.
This turns your mouth into a dangerous environment where gingivitis-causing bacteria thrive and gum disease develops – eventually causing inflamed gums, enamel erosion, tooth decay, bone loss and dental pain. Gum disease can also affect your mood and other systems in your body, especially your heart and cardiovascular system.
Gum disease is generally prevented by a good oral care routine. This means brushing twice a day, flossing once per day, rinsing with antiseptic mouthwash and chewing sugar-free gum. But there are additional factors that increase your chances of gum disease.
- Smokers have twice the risk to develop gum disease than nonsmokers. The more cigarettes you smoke, the more at risk you are. And once you have gum disease, smoking makes it harder for your gums to heal.
- A diet low in nutrition can compromise your immune system and make it harder for your body to fight infection.
- Believe it or not, 30% of the population has a genetic predisposition to gum disease. This means that if your family members have had issues with bleeding gums and tooth decay, you might be more at risk.
Know the signs of heart disease
Like gum disease, heart disease also runs in families. But there are a number of lifestyle choices that will you put you more at risk – and they’re not all about diet and exercise.
A lot of new research is suggesting a strong link between high stress levels and an increased risk of heart disease or stroke. People who travel often, people who work long hours, people who have children, people who have frequent migraines, short people, lonely people, and even people with short tempers are all more likely to have heart disease.
If your doctor tells you you’re at risk or if your family has a history of heart disease, there are some simple steps you can take to increase your defenses. Eating a healthy diet, going for walks, limiting alcohol, quitting smoking and managing stress levels are all excellent ways to keep your heart healthy.
And if you are regularly experiencing any of the following systems, you should definitely schedule a checkup with your family doctor just to be sure:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
The link between gum disease and heart disease
More and more research is showing a link between gum disease and heart disease. In general, good oral health may decrease your likelihood of chronic health conditions. And if left untreated, periodontal or gum disease may increase your chance of heart attack by as much as 50%.
So what’s the real link between the two? Inflammation… probably.
Inflammation is most often associated with swelling from injuries. But inflammation is more than just the body’s response to injury – it’s also the body’s way of signaling to the immune system to repair tissue and defend an area from foreign bodies like viruses and bacteria.
If you remember, gum disease is caused by excessive bacteria in the mouth. And gum disease is characterized by chronic inflammation of gums. So ultimately gum disease is increasing your immune system’s burden. And for someone with heart disease and a gum infection, the immune system is working overtime to heal both areas.
Once we add the stresses of daily life to this mix, research suggests that pretty much everyone is at risk for heart disease, gum disease and possibly a shorter life.
3 Easy Prevention Tips
Now with all that doom and gloom out of the way, let’s talk about what you can do to prevent gum disease and heart disease at the same time.
- Go for a walk. No, seriously! A 2013 study of 50,000 runners and walkers found that the runners had 4.5% lower risk of cardiovascular disease than people who were inactive. But the walkers of the group actually had a 9% lower risk than people who were inactive! So you do NOT have to go outside and start breaking world records anytime soon – grab a friend and go for a hike or just a stroll around the neighborhood.
- Stop smoking and limit alcohol. We know this is harder than it sounds, and everyone likes to have fun! But smoking and excessive alcohol use both increase inflammation and lower the body’s immune system. We want our patients to lead happy, healthy lives. If you ever need someone to talk to, please don’t be afraid to ask anyone on our team for help!
- See your dentist twice a year. Sorry to toot our own horns here, but dentists do more than look at teeth. Depending on the patient, dentists can detect symptoms of all sorts of conditions – from oral cancer, diabetes and HIV, to osteoporosis and acid reflux. We are here to treat the whole patient, not just the mouth!
So if you ever have any questions or concerns about your gum or heart health—or if you’d like to talk to us about developing a better oral care routine—we are just a phone call away. Find a location near you.