Dental Health Linked to Heart Health

When my Mother was 92, she needed carotid artery surgery for 97% blockage. When I took her to Kaiser pre-op, one of the first things the intake nurse said was, “take out your dentures.” My Mom strongly replied, “these are my own teeth!” And they were, a full set.

We then moved on to the surgical nurse, who also said to her, “take out your teeth.” She was mad. We then moved on to the Anesthesiologist, who was a woman of about 55. She was head of the department for the highest risk surgeries. Before this Doctor could say anything, my Mother loudly stated, “these are my teeth, and I can’t take them out!”

The doctor calmly stated, “I know.” That surprised me, and I asked how she knew that, and was it because she had seen my Mother’s jaw in the ultrasound or radiographic images taken. The Doctor replied, “No. I have been doing this job for 25 years and in my own clinical observations, the great majority of the time I am intubating a person over 85 for surgery, they have most or all of their teeth.”  She then added, “if I am intubating someone who is under 60 and has no teeth, most of the time they aren’t making it to 85, they are dead.”

However, upon reflection, dental health is a huge indicator of overall health.

And gum disease is a disease of inflammation, just like cardiovascular and heart disease. Studies have shown that there is a link between poor oral health, gum disease, and heart disease. In a moderate or advanced stage, people with gum disease are at higher risk of heart disease than someone with healthy gums. The American Dental Association and American Heart Association have acknowledged the relationship between gum disease and heart disease. Gum disease may increase the risk of heart disease because inflammation in the gums and bacteria may eventually lead to the narrowing of important arteries.

As plaque builds up, bacteria can penetrate deep into the gums leading to inflammation, bleeding, and bone loss around teeth, all of which are signs of gum disease. Left unmanaged, the bacterial load can get into the bloodstream, causing inflammation and other health effects.

According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular conditions such as atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), irregular heartbeat, Stroke, restricted blood flow to the heart, and heart failure have all been linked to inflammation caused by oral bacteria.

Fortunately, gum disease is entirely preventable and treatable.

Be mindful of early signs of gum disease such as bleeding, inflamed gums, recession, and bad breath. The best prevention: see your dentist regularly and maintain overall health.