In the United States, heart disease remains one of the leading causes of death. Over 500,000 people die each year, while in 2018 alone, at least 30 million received the diagnosis.
Heart-related conditions can be tricky to diagnose and treat as well. In some cases, the symptoms are subtle, or the death is instant. However, a regular checkup, preferably annually, may help spot the problem before it becomes worse. One of the healthcare providers they need to see is a dentist.
The Link Between Heart Disease and Oral Hygiene
At first glance, one may struggle to find a connection between poor oral health and cardiovascular disorders. After all, many Americans believe that a bad diet, a lack of exercise, obesity, and genetics are its primary causes.
More studies over the years, though, have successfully established the link, which is usually an oral bacterium. These include recent research by the American Heart Association (AHA).
In 2021, the association released a paper that stressed (1) how excellent dental hygiene can prevent a rare but life-threatening heart infection called infective endocarditis and (2) what oral doctors should do to minimize or prevent the risk, particularly among patients already diagnosed with heart disease.
Infective or bacterial endocarditis occurs when a pathogen enters the bloodstream, travels through the heart, and causes inflammation of the endocardium or the innermost layer of the organ that lines the chambers. The mouth is abundant in bacteria, some of which are the primary triggers of the inflammation.
Anyone can develop the condition, particularly those with a poor immune system, but those with a heart problem is are more likely to experience severe complications. For this reason, AHA recommends that dentists prescribe antibiotics to them before treatment or any dental procedure.
However, regular dental care can also be potent prophylaxis since it can help reduce the overgrowth of bacteria that may cause the condition. It also lessens complex dental procedures that may increase the risk of infection.
Metabolic Syndromes and Poor Dental Health
The 2021 AHA study might have clearly established an association between dental health and cardiovascular issues. But so do other types of research that relate the former with metabolic syndromes.
What is metabolic syndrome? It refers to a group of related conditions that influence or affect the person’s metabolism. These include a high hip-to-waist ratio, high levels of triglycerides or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) (also known as bad cholesterol), elevated blood sugar (glucose) levels, and increased blood pressure.
In a 2020 research by the Tokyo Medical and Dental University, the bacteria that can cause periodontal or inflammatory gum disease may also trigger the metabolic syndrome. The researchers worked with patients with metabolic syndrome and found that they seemed to register higher antibody levels against Porphyromonas gingivalis.
Based on the mouse model, this microorganism can induce insulin resistance, a condition wherein the cells become less sensitive to insulin, a pancreatic hormone that delivers glucose for energy. Because the cells are no longer that receptive, the body forces the pancreas to create more of the hormone while glucose remains in the bloodstream.
In the long term, the pancreas will stop working properly, and the body is less able to use glucose. Insulin resistance, therefore, becomes a precursor for diabetes.
That is not the only effect of the bacteria, however. It may also act upon other inflammatory mediators, so it isn’t only the gums that may be swelling. The whole body may suffer from low-grade but chronic inflammation or infection.
In the early stages, the person may not experience any sign and symptom. Still, the inflammation will slowly damage the organs and immune system, as well as disrupt the production of hormones. All these can increase the risk of developing other hallmarks of metabolic syndrome, which can then potentially lead to heart disorders when left untreated, managed, or controlled.
Granted, while metabolic syndrome isn’t easy to manage, treatments are available. For example, people with hypertension can take blood-pressure-lowering drugs.
But a 2018 study by the AHA revealed that these medications might not work as well if they continue to have poor dental hygiene. Studying over 3,000 people with hypertension, the researchers learned that those who maintained proper oral health did not only lower their risk for the chronic disease but also respond better to their medications. Meanwhile, those who suffered from gum disease were 20 percent less likely to control their blood pressure levels.
Even if various parts of the body have different functions, they are interdependent. What happens in the mouth, thus, can affect other organs. Taking care of one’s oral health may improve the health of both the oral cavity and the heart.