upclose image of woman with inflamed gunsGum disease is one of the most dangerous oral infections. Not only is it the leading cause of tooth loss among American adults, but it has a profound impact on your overall health. Among the serious health effects of gum disease is an increase in your risk of heart attack, often called myocardial infarction by doctors. 

New research gives us even more insight into this connection, as it shows that people getting gum disease treatment before their heart attack may have better outcomes than those who aren’t getting dental care. Boston dentist Dr. Ryan Clancy works to protect his patients’ health and is prepared to work closely with doctors to promote patients’ overall wellbeing. 

Gum Disease Treatment Linked to Heart Attack Outcomes

For this study, researchers looked at more than 2000 patients who were hospitalized in 2017 for acute myocardial infarction. They divided the patients according to dental care received before their heart attack:

  • 47% received a regular dental checkup
  • 10% received maintenance treatment for gum disease
  • 7% received periodontal scaling and root planing
  • 36% received no dental care

Researchers found that those people getting maintenance treatment for gum disease were more likely to attend follow-up appointments than other groups. The periodontal maintenance group also had shorter hospital stays than patients in the no-care group. Since longer hospital stays after a heart attack are associated with higher healthcare costs and worse outcomes, this suggests a significant benefit from gum disease treatment and maintenance. So if you are looking to avoid a heart attack, incorporate regular visits to your Boston dentist into your preventive approach. 

Researchers suggest that integrating oral and overall healthcare could improve treatment outcomes for many people. The authors wrote, “More partnership between dentists and primary care physicians and cardiologists and better sharing of care information among providers could aid in early intervention and prevention of AMI and its complications.”

How Gum Disease Contributes to Heart Attack Risk

So how does gum disease affect your heart? We’ve talked about this in more detail elsewhere, but here we’ll focus primarily on the ways that gum disease links to heart attack risk. 

A heart attack occurs when the blood flow to your heart gets blocked. Blocking is caused by either a blood clot or a broken-off piece of arterial plaque. Even if arterial plaque doesn’t directly cause an infarction, it narrows the artery to make blockage more likely. 

Gum disease contributes to the buildup of arterial plaque and the narrowing of your arteries in three ways:

  • Inflammation
  • Oral bacteria live in arterial plaque
  • Oral bacteria alter your cholesterol

With these three powerful mechanisms, of course, it makes sense that gum disease would be linked to heart attacks. Getting gum disease treatment from a Boston dentist can help you protect your heart health. 

Bacteria Trigger Inflammation

One of the biggest contributors to atherosclerosis is systemic inflammation. Systemic inflammation plays numerous roles in atherosclerosis. Inflammation of the arterial lining narrows the blood vessels. Inflammatory chemicals also have a significant impact on the development and breaking free of arterial plaque. 

Oral bacteria contribute to systemic inflammation by triggering an ongoing immune response. Gum disease is, after all, an active infection that your body feels it must respond to. Oral bacteria can also trigger localized immune responses when it travels through the blood to increase inflammation at the site of arterial plaque. 

Bacteria Live in Arterial Plaque

In addition to triggering inflammation, oral bacteria directly contribute to the growth of arterial plaque. Oral bacteria colonize the arteries, living on and in the arterial plaque. 

Surveys of bacteria living in arterial plaque have identified five species of oral bacteria that seem to exclusively colonize the blood vessels of the heart. Most of these are associated with severe gum disease. Some are also associated with tooth infections. These bacteria set up communities that can thrive in the plaque environment, contributing to atherosclerosis. 

Oral Bacteria Alter Your Cholesterol

You know that cholesterol is one of the main components of arterial plaque. However, did you know that oral bacteria can change the cholesterol in your blood? It can. Certain chemicals released by oral bacteria trigger lipid peroxidation, an attack on cholesterol that plays a key step in the formation of arterial plaque. 

By increasing this attack on your cholesterol, oral bacteria can speed up the formation of arterial plaque. 

Supporting Heart Health in Boston

At Divine Smiles, we’re not just concerned about our patients’ smiles. We care about our patients’ overall health, too. We believe that good oral health is a critical foundation for overall health. 

To help support our patients, we not only provide comprehensive dental care but also work with doctors in Boston. We can work with GPs or specialists like cardiologists to provide periodontal care. Gum disease treatment helps people who have experienced an acute myocardial infarction or those who are at an elevated risk for myocardial infarction. 

If you have gum disease or are overdue for a dental checkup, please call (781) 396-8558 or use our online form to request an appointment at Divine Smiles, located in Horn Pond Plaza, across from Whole Foods. We are also happy to accept referrals from doctors looking to get oral health care for at-risk patients in the Boston area.