Cardiovascular disease and oral health
Cardiovascular disease — which can include hypertension, heart attack and stroke, is a serious and widespread disease affecting about 3.5 million Australians. It is the nation’s number-one killer, causing more deaths than any other disease and placing a huge strain on the health system. So how can good oral hygiene protect you from cardiovascular disease?
It may not just be teeth you’re saving during a trip to the dentist. Research suggests a clear link between periodontal problems and cardiovascular disease.
Evidence from large studies cited by Dental Health Services Victoria suggests that both periodontal disease and overall tooth loss from any cause are closely related to cardiovascular disease. Indeed, a person with fewer than 10 of their own teeth remaining is seven times more likely to die of coronary disease than someone with more than 25 of their own teeth.
How does periodontal disease affect heart health?
Some scientists believe that it’s the inflammation caused by a periodontal disease that may contribute to cardiovascular disease. Bacteria found in the gum tissue around the teeth can enter the bloodstream and move into the circulatory system. Inflammation in the body triggers the formation of arterial plaque, which can then be deposited in the blood vessels, clumping them up and leading to strokes and heart attacks.
Treatment for periodontal disease can lower the risk of the disease worsening. There obviously needs to be a two-pronged approach, so that the patient is being treated for both conditions by their respective specialists. If the patient already has cardiovascular disease, it’s important that they get their heart treatment sorted first. That said, I recommend they also book in a visit to the dentist to arrest the march of periodontal disease, save their teeth and prevent or manage further harm.
What’s involved in periodontal treatment?
Gum treatment involves a periodontal assessment, during which radiographs will be taken and the severity of the periodontal disease will be determined. Once that’s done, we usually conduct a thorough clean of your teeth —periodontal debridement is what we call it.
This can be done here with our oral health therapist, though we might send a patient off to a periodontist for ongoing management if the disease has progressed significantly. It is not a one-off treatment, the periodontal disease involves life-long management.
Periodontists are trained to handle complex complaints and to conduct surgical procedures. They do finer detail work, such as raising gums for access to clean around the gums and they’re far more interventionist than general practice dentists.
The studies do tend to suggest that any dental work to save teeth may be protective against cardiovascular disease, so it’s worth booking an appointment. All that dental work might seem like an inconvenience, but timely and effective treatment for the periodontal disease might just be a lifesaver in the long run.