Gum disease is a condition that causes inflammation of the tissues that surround the teeth. As the condition progresses, the bones of the jaw start to erode. Gum disease is caused by bacteria that grow on the surface of the teeth and under the gums. Scientific data have revealed that gum disease can cause heart disease, a condition used to describe a variety of functional heart problems or heart infection, according to a 2008 news release from the University of Cincinnati 1.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection of the tissue that surrounds the teeth. The first stage of gum disease is referred to as gingivitis; as the condition worsens, gingivitis becomes periodontitis. The mouth naturally produces plaque, a clear substance located on the teeth. Plaque contains bacteria that produce toxins that irritate the gum tissue. Over time, the plaque hardens into tartar, notes the University of Michigan Health System.
There is a direct link between gum disease and heart disease. In fact, science is able to predict who will develop heart disease based upon their oral care. Gum disease can cause heart conditions such as endocarditis and functional irregularities. According to the Langone Medical Center, bacterial endocarditis is a bacterial infection of the heart membrane that is caused by streptococcus mutans and aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, two bacterial species associated with gum disease, says Dr. Nakano and Colleagues in the journal "Oral Microbiology and Immunology." The bacteria that originate on the teeth and under the gum line travels into the bloodstream where it is deposited into the heart tissue, causing infection and inflammation 2.
Signs and Symptoms
Gingivitis is a mild condition that causes swollen, red gums that can bleed when brushed. Periodontitis is present when the gums begin to recede from the teeth, exposing the bone. Unprotected bone becomes infected with bacteria. The gums become red and swollen, bleed and ooze pus. The teeth loosen, chronic bad breath ensues and the teeth may fall out or require extraction by a dentist, according to the University of Michigan Health System.
Signs and symptoms of bacterial endocarditis include a heart murmur, fatigue, fever, weakness, muscle aches, coughing, joint pain, breathlessness and little red dots on the skin, mouth and nails. Functional abnormalities of the heart present as heart palpitations, irregular heart beats and chest pain, according to the Langone Medical Center.
The risk of gum disease that leads to heart disease rises in people who have a genetic predisposition and those who do not practice good oral hygiene. The teeth must be brushed twice a day and flossed once per day. Also, immune-comprised patients with AIDS, leukemia or diabetes will suffer from gum disease more frequently, as will those with high stress and poor diet and those who are smokers, according to the University of Michigan Health System and Langone Medical Center.
Minor gingivitis is treated with improved oral hygiene that includes flossing and regular dental cleanings. Severe gum disease requires extensive dental cleaning above the gum line. Antibiotics are prescribed to rid the mouth of infection and in extreme cases surgery is recommended to remove infected tissue and teeth, notes the University of Michigan Health System.
Treatment for bacterial endocarditis includes IV antibiotics for four to six weeks. If the infection persists or if the heart is damaged, surgery is performed to remove the cause of the infection and to repair the damaged heart valves, according to the Langone Medical Center.
- University of Cincinnati: Gum Disease Can Lead to an Unhealthy Heart
- "Oral Microbiology and Immunology"; Detection of Oral Bacteria in Cardiovascular Specimens; Kazuhiko Nakano, Ph.D. and Colleagues; 2009
- Keith Brofsky/Photodisc/Getty Images