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periodontal disease, heart disease, & stroke

Periodontal disease, heart disease, and stroke are all serious health conditions that may seem unrelated, but research has shown that people with periodontal disease are nearly twice as likely to also suffer from coronary heart disease. Additionally, studies have found that oral infection is a risk factor for stroke, and people diagnosed with acute cerebrovascular ischemia were more likely to also be experiencing some degree of periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease is a progressive condition in which the gingival tissue surrounding the teeth is infected by the colonization of bacteria. Bacteria found in plaque colonize first above, then below the gumline, causing the tissue to pull away from the teeth. If periodontal disease is left untreated, deep pockets form between the gums and the teeth, and the tissue of the underlying jawbone is also destroyed. The destruction of bone tissue causes the teeth to shift, become loose, or completely detach from the bone.

Coronary heart disease occurs when the walls of the coronary arteries become progressively thicker due to the buildup of fatty proteins. The heart then suffers from a lack of oxygen and must work significantly harder to pump and circulate blood to the rest of the body. Coronary heart disease sufferers sometimes experience blood clots that obstruct normal blood flow and reduce the amount of vital nutrients and oxygen the heart needs to function, thereby often leading to heart attacks.

oral bacteria into bloodstream

It is well known that periodontal disease can exacerbate existing heart conditions. The periodontist and cardiologist generally work together as a team to treat individuals experiencing both conditions. There are many theories that may explain the association between heart disease, stroke, and periodontal disease, which include the following:

  • Periodontal bacteria affects the heart: There are many different types or strains of periodontal (oral) bacteria. Researchers have found that some of these strains of bacteria enter the bloodstream and attach to the fatty plaques in the heart blood vessels (coronary arteries). This attachment then contributes to clot formation, which can be dangerous to the individual.

  • Inflammation: Periodontal disease can cause inflammation in the gum tissue, which can elevate the white blood cell count and increase the levels of high sensitivity C-reactive protein. Research has shown that increased levels of C-reactive proteins have been linked to heart disease.

  • Susceptibility to infection: Individuals with high levels of oral bacteria may have weaker immune systems and an inadequate host inflammatory response. These factors may contribute to specific vascular effects that have been linked to the onset of certain forms of heart disease

Diagnosis & Treatment

It is crucial to seek immediate treatment for periodontal disease since it appears to be a risk factor for both heart attack and stroke. Initially, the periodontist will conduct a comprehensive dental exam to assess the exact condition of the teeth, gums, and jawbone. X-rays can be helpful in determining the presence of bone loss in the upper and lower jaw. The dentist can perform treatments such as deep cleaning treatments known as scaling and root planning (SRP) to remove calculus (tartar) deposits from the gum pockets.  In most cases, periodontal disease can be prevented with regular cleanings and proper home care.

If you have questions or concerns about periodontal disease and its relation to heart disease and stroke, please contact our office.

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