Periodontal Disease and Heart Disease
The most common form of heart disease, called coronary heart disease (CHD), is caused by the buildup of fatty plaques within the walls of the arteries that deliver blood to the heart muscle. When these arteries become clogged, blood flow stops and the heart muscles are deprived of oxygen, resulting in damage to the heart muscle. This is commonly called a heart attack. CHD is the most common cause of death for both men and women in the United States.
Many factors increase an individual’s risk for CHD, and only some are controllable. Age, gender, race, and family history of CHD are risk factors we cannot change. Other recognized risk factors we can control: blood pressure, diabetes, blood cholesterol, obesity, smoking, diet, and exercise.
Another controllable risk factor identified in many studies is the presence of periodontal (gum) disease. While we know that periodontal disease adds to an individual’s risk, we have not yet shown that treating periodontal disease lowers an individual’s overall risk for CHD.
The association between periodontal disease and CHD is well-recognized but poorly understood. With so many factors adding to the risk for CHD, it’s very hard to single out one factor and determine the impact and reason for that one interaction.
There are several theories for why this interaction occurs. One is that the bacteria that cause periodontal disease release toxins and molecular signals into the bloodstream, triggering CHD. Some of these bacteria have been found within diseased coronary arteries. We also know that chronic inflammation resulting from periodontal disease causes the body to produce a protein called C-reactive protein (CRP). Elevated CRP has been identified as a major risk factor for CHD. Treating periodontal disease has been shown to lower overall levels of CRP and other inflammatory markers in the blood, so there is hope that someday we may be able to show that treating periodontal disease actually reduces the incidence and severity of CHD.
What can you do now to reduce your risk of CHD? Try to address each of the controllable risk factors to the best of your ability, including periodontal disease. Regular dental exams can catch periodontal disease at early stages when it is easier to treat and reverse. If you have been diagnosed with periodontal disease, regular maintenance is key to controlling inflammation and reducing the production of C-reactive protein.
Although we can’t say today that treating your periodontal disease will reduce your chance of a heart attack, it will result in a much higher level of oral health and hopefully overall health. With so many factors contributing to the risk for CHD, controlling or eliminating this one may make a difference.
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