Gum disease and heart disease link

If you’ve heard about a link between gum disease and heart problems, you might wonder how – or if – brushing and flossing also can be good for your heart.

Many people in the United States have some form of gum disease, and it’s important to understand how your dental health can impact your overall health. Find out more about gum disease, how it’s connected to heart disease, and what you can do to keep your risks low.

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What Is Gum Disease?

Your mouth has bacteria that, along with other substances, can form plaque on your teeth. When you brush and floss your teeth, you help remove the plaque.

Plaque that doesn’t get brushed or flossed away can harden into a substance called tartar, which has to be scraped off by your dentist or dental hygienist. Both plaque and tartar can lead to gum disease, or periodontal disease, which is an infection in your gums.

There are two different types of gum disease. They are:

  • Gingivitis – a mild form of gum disease that can cause your gums to become red and swollen or to bleed easily. Smoking, vitamin C deficiency, and hormonal changes all play a part in gingivitis as well. Gingivitis usually can be treated and reversed through daily brushing and flossing, and regular cleanings at your dentist.
  • Periodontitis – a more serious form of gum disease that can happen when gingivitis goes untreated. Periodontitis happens when your gums pull away from your teeth, leaving spaces that get infected. Over time, this can weaken the bones, gums, and tissue that support your teeth, leading to tooth loss.

Both of these conditions can be prevented with good oral hygiene and regular visits to your dentist for cleanings every six months. Certain drugs can increase your risk of gingivitis, including drugs used for treatment of chest pain (angina). If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, be sure to contact your doctor.

Are Gum Disease and Heart Problems Linked?

By brushing and flossing your teeth each day, you can help your gums stay healthy – but what does this have to do with your heart?

Some studies have shown that people with gum disease are more likely to have heart disease and problems controlling blood sugar, which is a risk factor for diabetes.

Several medicines for cardiovascular diseases can affect your dental hygiene. If you are prescribed anticoagulants, you may be at risk of excessive gum bleeding.

Medicines to prevent angina use calcium channel blockers that can lead to gum overgrowth. This in turn can lead to the need for periodontal surgery. If you are being treated for angina, you should only undergo essential (nonelective) surgery, and make sure your doctor is prepared with heart monitoring equipment during the surgery.

Scientists don’t know exactly how gum disease and heart problems are linked, but some believe that the bacteria from your mouth can travel through your bloodstream and attach to fatty deposits in the blood vessels in your heart.

In addition, gum disease and heart disease have risk factors in common, including:

  • Age
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Stress
  • Obesity

The Importance of Staying Healthy

Although there is no evidence to show that fighting gum disease will help you fight heart disease, healthy teeth and gums are an important part of overall health. To help keep your risk of gum disease low, you should:

  • Brush your teeth at least two times a day.
  • Floss at least once a day.
  • Keep regular appointments with your dentist so you can spot problems early.
  • Keep your dentist informed and up to date with all the medications you are taking.
  • Don’t smoke – or, if you do smoke, quit. No matter how long you’ve smoked, it’s never too late to quit.
  • Choose a healthy diet, which can help your body fight infections.

To learn more, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.