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  • Dr Vyla Ellis

Does Gum Disease Affect My Heart?

Your gums are not only important for maintaining healthy teeth, they are now recognised as having an important impact on many serious health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, premature birth and pneumonia. If you or your loved ones have a family history of heart disease here is what you need to know about your gums and how they can affect your heart.

What is gum disease?

Gum disease is the number 1 cause of tooth loss in Australia. Gum disease is caused by a bacterial infection resulting in inflammation of the gums, bone and ligaments that surround the teeth. It may start out as gingivitis which is a common condition resulting in bleeding gums. For others the disease is silent until it is in its advanced stages. Inflammation of the gums results in pockets developing around the teeth which causes loss of the bone around the teeth. Sometimes the gum will also recede, making you look "long in the tooth". In advanced cases teeth become wobbly and may become abscessed leading to the teeth having to be removed.

How are gum disease and heart disease linked?

It is thought that the association is due to the inflammatory process of gum disease. Gum disease often results in bleeding gums which allows oral bacteria to enter the blood stream. This is supported by the fact that 47% of the bacteria found in the artery walls of patients with periodontal disease is oral bacteria.

If I have untreated gum disease what is its impact on my heart?

  • Risk of stroke is 2-3 times higher

  • Risk of chest pain and heart disease is doubled

  • Risk of heart attack is 28% higher

  • Tartar build-up increases the prevalence of angina and chest pain.

How is it treated?

The hard tartar which forms around the teeth and underneath the gums contains bacteria which contribute to gum disease. For most people having this removed by a dental hygienist or dentist every 6 months keeps gum disease under control. In more severe cases this may be required every 3 or 4 months and in some cases specialist treatment with a periodontist is recommended.

Do I have gum disease?

1 in 5 Australians have moderate to severe gum disease. It can happen to anyone. Smokers, diabetics and those with a family history of gum disease are at a high risk of developing gum disease. As gum disease is usually silent until its advanced stages you will need to see your dentist to have your gums assessed.

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