February is, for many, the month of the heart. As Valentine’s Day approaches, we turn our thoughts to those we love and prepare for the day with flowers, chocolates and reservations for dinner. While the heart may grow fonder from these lovely gestures, the heart may be healthier if your oral health is healthy too.
Many reports have been published on the oral-systemic link. This is the relationship between your oral health and your overall health. In no part of the human body is that more evident than the relationship between good oral health and good heart health. Study after study has shown that those with moderate to severe gum disease (gingivitis early on and periodontal disease in its later stages) are at an increased risk of developing heart disease.
There is an abundance of plausible data showing that the two are intertwined. The leading body of cardiologists and the leading body of periodontists in the U.S. recently came together to publish a report in each of their respective professional journals on the topic, following the review of more than 100 studies showing the link between oral health and heart health. They arrived at several conclusions linking the two including:
- Gum disease is a risk factor for coronary heart disease
- Gum disease is a risk factor for stroke
- There is a direct link between gum disease and clogged vessels in the legs
How to Tell if You are At Risk
Poor nutrition, diabetes and tobacco use, among the highest risk factors for heart disease, are also risk factors for gum disease. In fact, many risk factors for one will be found on a list of risk factors for the other. When plaque builds up below the gum line or along the gum line, gum disease begins to develop. A growing body of research shows that the bacteria contributing to this gum disease can actually detach and move along the bloodstream to attach to blood vessels. This begins the process of clot formation. These clots clog the arteries, making it difficult for blood to flow freely, and increasing the risk of a heart attack.
What Signs Should You Look for
Gum disease is often undiagnosed, yet affects the majority of people in the United States. Your best defense is to pay attention for any warning signs that gum disease may be beginning. If you are experiencing any of the following, it is time to act:
- Bleeding gums when flossing or brushing
- Red, tender or swollen gums
- Gums that appear to be separating from teeth
- Loose teeth
- Chronic bad breath
Any one of these symptoms on their own may not mean gum disease is developing, but the best course is to discuss it with your dentist. Make an appointment today for a check-up, cleaning and a discussion of whether you are showing signs of gum disease.
What Can You Do
It is vital that you take steps each and every day to ensure good dental health. Thorough brushing and flossing is key, and be vigilant about seeing your dentist for regular check-ups and cleanings. Your dentist will provide a comprehensive exam that should include checking for any signs of gum disease and a vigorous cleaning to remove any plaque or tartar that has built up since your last visit.
If you have been diagnosed with gum disease, even in its early stages, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor. Having your doctor and your dentist work together on ways to help you reduce your ongoing risk of heart disease is important in your overall planning.
A cardiologist can be a great ally in your battle to combat heart disease – either to prevent an initial diagnosis or, if already diagnosed, to prevent progression of the disease process. Your cardiologist can work with you to reduce blood pressure, increase blood flow and make your heart a healthier organ once again. Many cardiologists do this by prescribing medications designed to improve blood pressure, cholesterol and overall health of the cardio vascular system. Some cardiologists, however, are expanding to a more integrative approach. At PM Dental Care, we live under the same roof as Integrative Cardiology Center of Long Island (ICCLI), a practice offering a combination of traditional medical therapies with yoga, weight loss, stress reduction, vitamins and supplements. Dr. Regina Druz, founder of the practice and an experienced cardiologist, brings her expertise along with that of each member of her team, to patients seeking a comprehensive approach to good heart health. Patients walk in for their preliminary visit apprehensive about what can be done to improve their heart health. Following the course of treatment laid out by Dr. Druz and her team has resulted in smiling patients, many of whom note they feel better now than they have in years. For more information on Integrative Cardiology Center of Long Island or Dr. Regina Druz, visit www.ICCLI.com or call (516) 746-1103.
The various systems and parts of our bodies do not operate in a vacuum. The intertwining of our systems means we need to take good care of ALL of our systems. And taking care of one part, may benefit another. So keep up the good daily dental care you may reap the benefits all over your body.
One last Valentine’s Day note…dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants that may benefit the heart. So, you can enjoy some holiday sweets while with your sweetie too. Just be sure to brush before bedtime.
Wishing you bright smiles to fill your day and a healthy heart to keep you going.