Did you know that people with gum (periodontal) disease have two to three times the risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiovascular events?
"Periodontal disease increases the body's burden of inflammation," says periodontist Dr. Hatice Hasturk of the Harvard-affiliated Forsyth Institute.
Scientists have known for decades that chronic inflammation is a key contributor to many serious health problems, especially brain and heart health.
However, new research indicates that when sticky, bacteria-laden film plaque in your mouth leads to gum disease, a more dangerous, “fatty” type of plaque (consisting mainly of fat, cholesterol, calcium) can build up inside your arteries, too.
This artery-clogging plaque (atherosclerosis) is a prime cause of coronary artery disease.
"Because inflammation appears to play a major role in the development and worsening of atherosclerosis or 'hardening' of blood vessels, we investigated if gum disease is associated with blockages in brain vessels and strokes caused by atherosclerosis of the brain vessels," said Dr. Souvik Sen, chairman of clinical neurology at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine.
Dr. Sen presented the preliminary findings of two research studies at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference in February 2020.
The first study of 265 stroke patients found that patients with gum disease:
Had twice as many strokes due to the thickening and hardening of their brain arteries
Were three times as likely to have a stroke in their cerebellum—the part of the brain that controls balance, vision, coordination, and fine muscle control
The second study involved more than 1,100 patients who had not experienced a stroke. Participants with gum disease:
Were twice as likely to have moderately severe narrowing of brain arteries
Were 2.4 times more likely to have severely blocked brain arteries
"It's important for clinicians to recognize that gum disease is an important source of inflammation for their patients and to work with patients to address gum disease," concluded Dr. Sen.
So How Can You Prevent Gum Disease?
Twice daily brushing and flossing are key to preventing and even reversing gingivitis—the early stage of gum disease.
Flossing removes the bacteria-laden film between your teeth—missed by your toothbrush—that causes plaque buildup.
Make sure you don’t rush when brushing! The American Dental Association recommends brushing for two minutes each time.
And, remember, you should see your dentist every six months and have twice-yearly cleanings by a dentist or hygienist.
Your Mother Was Right!
Mom told you a million times—sugar rots your teeth.
Sugary foods and drinks are a magnet for bacteria that feed upon sugar and form dental plaque, which, in turn, contains acids that attack your tooth enamel.
Over time, the acid breaks down your tooth enamel and causes cavities.
And if plaque isn't removed it hardens into tartar, which builds up on your gums and leads to inflammation that causes gum disease.
TIP: If you've consumed acidic food or drink, avoid brushing your teeth right away. These acids weaken tooth enamel, and brushing too soon can damage your enamel.
Signs of Gum Disease
Tender, red, or swollen gums
Gums that bleed easily
Pus between the teeth and gums
Hard brown deposits along the gum line
Teeth that are loose or moving apart
Dental appliances don’t fit the same way they used to
So, remember: each time you brush your teeth, take an extra minute to make sure you’ve brushed and flossed thoroughly. Your good health will give you lots to smile about!