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Get to the Heart of Oral Health

Research shows a link between gum disease and heart disease and stroke. Evidence is mounting that people with gum (periodontal) disease, a bacterial infection, may be more at risk for heart disease and stroke. In fact, gum disease may also make existing heart problems worse.

The inflammation caused by gum disease may help lead to the buildup of fatty deposits inside heart arteries.

Gum disease is not an independent risk factor for heart disease or stroke. But there are findings showing a possible link. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and the U.S. Surgeon General, there may be a link between long-term (chronic) oral infections and heart disease.

What can you do?

First, be aware of these possible warning signs of gum disease:

  • Red, swollen, or sore gums

  • Bleeding while brushing or flossing

  • Gums that pull away from the teeth

  • Loose or separating teeth

  • Persistent bad breath

Healthy teeth and gums could help cut your risk for heart disease and stroke. Although you can’t guarantee that you’ll never have a heart attack, you may be able to reduce your risk with daily brushing and flossing.

Most important, have a dental exam and cleaning twice a year, or as often as your dentist advises. This is vital because sometimes gum disease is invisible. If plaque isn't removed every day by brushing and flossing, it hardens into tartar. Even if you think you’re doing a great job flossing and brushing, plaque can still stay in your mouth. Only a dental professional can remove the tartar and plaque that you may miss.

Taking extra care

For those with heart disease, the American Heart Association has some advice. First, establish and maintain a healthy mouth. Practice good oral hygiene and visit your dentist regularly. Second, make sure your dentist knows that you have a heart problem. Ask your provider if you need a bacterial endocarditis wallet card. Bacterial endocarditis is an infection in the heart. People at high risk for bacterial endocarditis may need special antibiotics before having certain dental procedures. This card lets your dentist and healthcare providers know about your condition and what precautions to take. Third, carefully follow your healthcare provider’s and dentist’s directions when they prescribe special medicines, such as antibiotics.

The good news is that gum disease is preventable. And if you have gum disease, it can be treated.

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