Oral Health

Gum Disease & Heart Attacks: A Connection


Suppose you could prevent a heart attack or a stroke with a two minute, no sweat exercise that could be performed anywhere. Would you be interested? Researchers believe that the connection between heart attacks and periodontal disease (advanced gum infection) is so convincing that flossing your teeth might actually be an exercise that saves your life.

Recent research

Previous studies have already shown a strong relationship between heart attacks and periodontal disease. The results, thus far, have been impressive. In a study reported by the Journal of Periodontology, patients were found to have a 50 percent increased risk for heart disease if they also had periodontitis.

From plaque to attack

Plaque, is actually a sticky film on the teeth made up almost entirely of colonies of bacteria. While the mouth usually maintains the proper balance of bacteria for our safety, the food we eat is broken down into sugars and starches, which encourage bacteria to increase. If these bacteria are not removed consistently by brushing and flossing the results will be bacterial plaque that hardens into tartar. Tartar can't be removed with brushing and flossing. Eventually these bacteria inflame the gums causing gingivitis or the more severe gum disease know as periodontitis in which the bone supporting the teeth is destroyed and teeth are lost. Although it may seem unlikely that an infection in the mouth may result in heart disease or stroke, there are several possible links that might explain this association. For example, it is well known that if a person has gum disease, oral bacteria will enter the blood stream even after chewing or tooth brushing. When bacteria from the inflamed gum tissue enter the bloodstream they trigger platelets, tiny disc-shaped clotting cells, to gather around them in a clump and possibly settle on injured tissue such as a replaced heart valve or a damaged blood vessel. This clump of oral bacteria can then infect and block blood vessels. A heart attack happens when a clot/clump lodges in a coronary artery, restricting oxygen blood flow to the point of the heart muscle damage. Further, when these bacteria enter the blood stream they can trigger the liver to produce proteins, which in turn can exaggerate heart damage!

A significant connection

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in most developed countries and periodontal disease is one of the most common infections in humans. According to some estimates, as many as 75 percent of adults over the age of 30 may suffer from some degree of gum disease.

Therefore, preventing gum disease form occurring through regular brushing and flossing or treating it early if it has occurred will help save your smile and may also decrease your risk for heart disease.

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Helping Smokers Quit
Excellent resources are available through the Canadian Cancer Society to help smokers kick the habit or start on the road to quitting. Please visit their Website at www.cancer.ca.

The local unit of the Canadian Cancer Society is as follows:

Durham Region Unit
172 King St. East, Suite 302
Oshawa, ON L1H 1B7
Phone: 905-725-1166
Fax: 905-725-1521
Email: edurham@ccsont.org