Dentists say gum disease and heart disease may be connected - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

Dentists say gum disease and heart disease may be connected

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Can your mouth tell if you're at risk for heart disease? It just may. 

A North Myrtle Beach dentist is trying to help patients understand the connection between gum disease and heart disease before it's too late.

Periodontitis, also known as gum disease, is a set of inflammatory diseases affecting the tissues surrounding the teeth that can cause tooth loss if left untreated.

"It’s effectively in its base form an inflammatory reaction caused by bacteria in the gingival pockets," said Dr. Alton Thomas, with North Myrtle Beach Dentistry.

Thomas said researchers have found people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to have heart disease, and that risk may be even greater than for those with high cholesterol. 

"Those with periodontal disease have a 25 percent greater chance of having some sort of cardiovascular episode, whether it be a stroke or heart attack," Thomas said. 

According to Thomas, bacteria from infected gum tissue around the teeth enters the bloodstream and spreads throughout the body.

"Studies have shown they have found these oral bacteria in plaque formations in the body actually in the tissue walls of arteries and veins," Thomas said.  

Once in the blood, the oral bacteria triggers an inflammatory response, causing blood vessels to swell and reduce blood flow. That can increase risk for clots.

"Once in the blood stream, they tend to adhere to plaque formations inside the vascular system, causing these clots to get larger," Thomas said.

Some common signs of periodontal disease include:

  • Swollen gums
  • Sensitive gums 
  • A pus discharge between the gums and teeth
  • Bad breath 
  • Loose or separating teeth

Thomas said just like anything else, prevention is the best way to avoid disease. That includes annual dental checkups, and regular brushing and flossing.

"Flossing is really important in keeping that gingival pocket in between the teeth where you can't brush clean," Thomas said. 

He added that smokers are at a higher risk for periodontitis and heart disease. Thomas said the best way to diagnose periodontal disease is by checking with your dentist. 

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