Periodontal Disease, Heart Disease and Stroke

Periodontal disease, heart disease, and stroke may seem to be unlikely bedfellows, but researchers have found that gum disease sufferers are nearly twice as likely to suffer from coronary heart disease as well. In addition, research studies have discovered that oral infection is indeed a risk factor for stroke. People diagnosed with acute cerebrovascular ischemia were more likely to also experience some degree of periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease is a progressive condition in which the gingival tissue surrounding the teeth is infected by the colonization of bacteria. Bacteria found in plaque colonize first above and then below the gumline, which causes the tissue to pull away from the teeth.  If periodontal disease is left untreated, deep pockets form between the gums and the teeth. The tissue of the underlying jawbone is also destroyed. The destruction of bone tissue causes the teeth to shift, wobble, or completely detach from the bone.

Coronary heart disease occurs when the walls of the coronary arteries become progressively thicker due to the buildup of fatty proteins.  The heart then suffers from a lack of oxygen and must labor significantly harder to pump blood to the rest of the body. Coronary heart disease sufferers sometimes experience blood clots that obstruct normal blood flow and reduce the amount of vital nutrients and oxygen the heart needs to function properly. This phenomenon often leads to heart attacks.

Reasons for the Connection

There is little doubt that the presence of periodontal disease can exacerbate existing heart conditions. The periodontist and cardiologist generally work as a team in order to treat individuals experiencing both conditions.

There are several theories that may explain the link between heart disease, stroke, and periodontal disease, which include the following:

  • Oral bacteria affects the heart – There are many different strains of periodontal bacteria. Researchers assert that some of these strains enter the bloodstream and attach to the fatty plaques in the heart's blood vessels (coronary arteries). This attachment then contributes to clot formation and causes grave danger to the individual.

  • Inflammation – Periodontal disease causes severe inflammation in the gum tissue, which elevates both the white blood cell count and high sensitivity C-reactive protein levels. Research has shown that elevated levels of C-reactive proteins have been linked to heart disease.

  • Infectious susceptibility – Individuals who experience particularly high levels of oral bacteria may have weaker immune systems and an inadequate host inflammatory response. These factors may induce specific vascular effects that have previously been shown to contribute to the onset of certain forms of heart disease.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Periodontal disease appears to be a risk factor in both heart attacks and strokes. It is therefore extremely important to seek immediate treatment. Initially, your periodontist will conduct thorough examinations to assess the exact condition of your teeth, gums, and jawbone.  X-rays can be helpful in determining whether bone loss is prevalent in the upper and lower jaw.

Your dentist is able to conduct deep-cleaning treatments, such as scaling and root planing, to remove hardened calculus (tartar) deposits from the gum pockets. An antibiotic may be prescribed to ensure that the bacterium is completely destroyed and the periodontal infection does not spread. In most cases, periodontal disease can be prevented with regular cleanings and proper home care.

If you have questions or concerns about periodontal disease and its relation to heart disease and stroke, please contact our office.

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