If you are concerned about the health of your heart, you probably already know to do some things to reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke. You have likely changed your diet and increased your level of exercise. However, there is something else you should do to reduce your cardiovascular risk: avoid or treat gum disease. That’s right. Gum disease isn’t just the leading cause of tooth loss among adults in the US; it’s a significant contributor to your risk of heart attack or stroke. If you want to reduce your cardiovascular risk, it might be time to visit Boston dentist Dr. Ryan Clancy, at Divine Smiles. 

Understanding Gum Disease

couple sitting on the couch smilingGum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is when bacteria infect the area around your teeth. Initially, these bacteria populate the small trenches around your teeth. As the population of bacteria grows, it causes damage to the space around your teeth, increasing the size of space around your teeth. You might notice swelling gums, redness, tender gums, bleeding, and more food getting stuck between your teeth and gums. Narrow foods like chips and popcorn husks are especially likely to get stuck there. 

As the space grows, it damages not just the gums but the bone around your teeth. You’ll notice receding gums, but you’re also losing bone underneath your gums. With more space around your teeth, your teeth get loose and may drift. 

With the infection worsening, your immune system responds in increasingly aggressive ways. By the time bacteria are attacking the bone around your teeth, the body may ramp up its immune response to destroy bacteria at any cost, including destroying the bone holding your teeth in place. This is where you are likely to see tooth loss from gum disease. 

Visiting a Boston dentist helps reduce your gum disease because professional cleanings remove oral bacteria that you can’t remove at home. It also allows us to assess the level of your disease and determine whether you need more frequent regular cleanings or more aggressive cleanings. 

Gum Disease and Heart Infections

There are many blood vessels in your gums. When these start bleeding, it also lets bacteria enter your blood and travel throughout your body, including your heart. 

Gum disease bacteria can infect your heart, causing a dangerous infection called endocarditis. This is a very serious heart infection that is hard to treat and can be deadly. However, this is, fortunately, a relatively rare complication of gum disease. 

Gum Disease and Arterial Plaque

More likely than infecting your heart, gum disease bacteria may colonize the walls of your arteries. Here, cholesterol deposits are already building up in your arteries, and oral bacteria may settle there. Oral bacteria populations grow in the plaque deposits, increasing their size. Not only do oral bacteria build up in the arterial plaque, but they produce fats that further increase the size of the plaque. 

Arterial plaque is dangerous because it can block your blood vessels. This normally happens when some of the plaque breaks off and travels to a narrower artery, where it cuts off blood flow. This causes either a stroke if it blocks blood vessels leading to the brain or a heart attack (myocardial infarction) if it blocks a blood vessel in the heart. 

Gum Disease and Systemic Inflammation

Another way that gum disease bacteria can increase your heart risk is with systemic inflammation. Inflammation is your body’s natural response to a wound or injury. You know that if you stub your toe really hard, it can swell up and get red. This, in a nutshell, is inflammation. 

In response to a wound, inflammation is very helpful. However, if your body just constantly has high levels of inflammation, you might experience severe effects. This includes inflammation of the blood vessels. When your blood vessels become inflamed, they narrow, making it more likely pieces of plaque will lead to serious blockages. 

In addition, gum disease can contribute to vasculitis, a serious autoimmune disorder in which your immune system starts attacking your blood vessels, leading to serious swelling that can close off numerous blood vessels, leading to organ damage or failure. 

Reduce Your Heart Risks by Treating Gum Disease in Boston

If you are looking to reduce your cardiovascular risks in Boston, you can start by visiting a dentist. Dr. Ryan Clancy at Divine Smiles serves the entire Boston area from our office in Woburn, MA. 

People with severe periodontal disease are about four times more likely to have a stroke than people with healthy gums. Research shows that getting regular dental cleanings might reduce your stroke risk by as much as 23%. Although not as strong, some research suggests a similar reduction in heart attack risk

If you are looking to do all you can to protect yourself from heart attack and stroke, please call (781) 396-8558 or email Divine Smiles today for an appointment at our Boston dental office in the Horn Pond Plaza across from Whole Foods.