You may have seen stories in the news about how poor oral health is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and other medical conditions. The headlines grab your attention, but read further and you’ll find out the issue is a little more complicated. The truth is, we don't know exactly how oral health and heart disease are linked, but we do know that multiple scientific studies have shown a correlation between the two, if not a direct causal relationship.
How Oral Health and Heart Health Are Connected
Our understanding of the human body and disease is constantly changing and evolving; one of the recent advances in medicine is a better understanding of the body’s inflammatory process and its impact on the body as a whole. Many scientists and physicians now believe that inflammation is the underlying cause of a wide range of diseases. While we’re not certain how oral health and heart disease are linked, the current theory is that it has to do with inflammation.
Gum disease, also known as periodontitis, is a consequence of poor oral health. Patients with gum disease experience painful gums that are red, swollen, and sometimes even bleed. These are classic symptoms of inflammation; indeed, gum disease causes the body to be in a constant state of inflammation, which is an important predictor of cardiovascular disease. Another way that gum disease impacts your heart health is by increasing blood pressure to unhealthy levels.
Infection in the mouth, whether it’s from gum disease or tooth decay, can easily spread elsewhere in the body. Blood stream infections that originate in the mouth can damage heart valves and even cause thickening of the carotid arteries.
How Oral Health and Diabetes Are Connected
While most people are aware that there is a link between heart health and oral health, fewer people understand the connection between diabetes and gum disease.
Patients who have diabetes have high levels of glucose in the bloodstream. This high glucose makes it more difficult for their bodies to fight off infection, making them more susceptible to developing gum disease. To make matters worse, high glucose levels can cause oral bacteria to flourish. In other words, when you have diabetes, you have both an increased amount of oral bacteria and a decreased ability to fight it off.
The good news for patients with diabetes is that treating gum disease with a simple scaling and root planing procedure can help improve blood sugar control in patients living with diabetes, often immediately after treatment.
The Bottom Line on Your Teeth and Your Overall Health
To answer the question at the beginning of the post, can your teeth predict whether you will get heart disease or diabetes? No. Your oral health is one of many factors used to determine your risk of these conditions, but they are not the only factor involved. If you have gum disease or tooth decay, it does not mean you will develop cardiovascular issues or diabetes in the future.
That said, the condition of your teeth and gums gives us insight into your overall health. If your gums are inflamed, it’s a sign that you may have inflammation elsewhere in your body. If you have ongoing problems with cavities and gum disease, it could be a sign of high blood glucose. This is one of the reasons why routine dental exams and cleanings twice a year are so important.
Make an Appointment to Assess Your Oral Health
The best thing you can do for your oral health is to make regular appointments for dental exams and cleanings. Contact us at 631-928-7500 to schedule a visit at our Port Jefferson Station office.