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Gum disease and heart disease appear to be related, thanks to several extensive studies in the early 2000s which suggested that people with periodontal disease were twice as likely to also have coronary artery disease, along with other heart-related health conditions. A couple of theories to explain the link between gum disease and heart disease have been posited and tested with additional scientific research. While these studies have not definitively proven that gum disease causes heart disease, they have clearly shown that there is some correlation between the two.
Some researchers argue that the link between gum disease and heart disease has to do with bacteria in the mouth. People with severe gum disease often experience bleeding gums, and nicks and cuts in the gums can provide a way for bacteria to enter the bloodstream. If the bacteria is not attacked by the immune system in time, it can reach the heart and may cause an infection such as endocarditis or damage other organs.
In addition, some oral bacteria appear to secrete sticky proteins which can allow them to adhere to the walls of the arteries, rather than being swept away by the flow of blood. As the bacteria accumulate, they contribute to the narrowing of the arteries which is linked with cardiovascular disease. Bacteria can also promote the formation of blood clots which could severely damage the heart. Some scientists argued that these bacteria should be trapped by the immune system, but when doctors sampled and cultured arterial plaque, they discovered colonies of oral bacteria happily multiplying in their petri dishes, suggesting that the immune system seems to have trouble stopping oral bacteria in the bloodstream.
In studies which attempted to explore the link between gum disease and heart disease, researchers looked at large samples of individuals with and without heart disease and gum disease. What they discovered is that gum disease is linked with heart disease, and cultures of bacteria from the mouth can often be used as a predictor of heart disease, much in the same way that cholesterol levels are utilized.
Obviously, no one wants gum disease. Since prevention of gum disease may also lower your risk of heart disease, it's a good idea to floss and brush regularly, and to visit a dentist on a regular basis for teeth cleaning and checkups. In some cases, people may also need to take antibiotics before dental procedures, to reduce the risk of endocarditis; this is something you should discuss with your dentist.