Oral Health and the Heart

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Oral health affects the overall well-being of our bodies, that is what we have been told to encourage us to visit the dentist regularly, but is there an actual link? You might be surprised that recent studies have made a connection between poor oral health and heart disease, although further research is still needed to fully understand it.  Let’s discover how oral bacteria can trigger heart disease, the associated symptoms and how to prevent such incidences.

How oral bacteria affect the heart?
Our mouth harbors many bacterial species, some of which are harmless and considered a natural habitat of the oral cavity, yet most of them, if found in large numbers, will lead to oral infections, such as dental decay and gum inflammation. In certain cases, where a person is immunocompromised, due to old age, medical conditions or as a side effect of taking certain drugs, bacteria will become opportunistic and travel through the bloodstream affecting many organs such as the heart.

What heart conditions are associated with oral bacterial?
Arteriosclerosis; plaque (made of fats, cholesterol and other substances) gets deposited inside the wall of arteries that supply the heart muscle, with time, this plaque mass will get inflamed and repute, leading to blood clots which will restrict the blood flow to the heart muscle. Unfortunately, oral bacteria such as streptococcus viridians have been implicated in such blood clots.

A person with this type of condition will suffer from coronary heart disease; they will develop a sudden dull heavy pain in the middle of the chest, radiating to the arm and shoulder, along with difficulty in breathing, dizziness and sweating. If this is not managed in a timely manner, it can be fatal.

Infective endocarditis; this is a fatal condition where there is an infection in the inner lining of the heart. A patient with prosthetic heart valves or congenital heart disease is practically at higher risk of getting this. Oral bacteria, mainly streptococcus viridians will travel along with the blood until it reaches the heart, where it will adhere to its inner surface leading to severe inflammation.

The infected individual will have chest pain while breathing, shortness of breath, night sweats, fever and chills.

Other organs; lung infection (pneumonia) and joint infection (rheumatoid arteritis) are linked to the presence of oral bacteria as well. Although, as mentioned, further research needs to be done to fully understand this association.

So, how can we prevent such incidents?
Oral hygiene is the keyword, when we practice proper oral hygiene measures; we control the number of harmful bacteria in our mouth, thus reducing the risk of developing general health disorders.

You can do that by following these simple steps:

Lastly, it is important to keep your dentist informed regarding your heart problems; you need to state your full medical history along with the medications you are taking. Certain elective procedures can be postponed, if your dentist sees it might pose a risk of developing a heart infection.