In the near future, a periodontist may be working even more closely with cardiologists and heart specialists. While, at this moment, there is a lot of speculation about the connection between the gum diseases and heart diseases, much research remains to be done before a fully formed opinion can be offered. What is interesting though, in the meanwhile, is the anecdotal evidence that seems to link the two together and may end up being a cause for greater study. What we do know for a fact is this – while there certainly are similarities and coexisting conditions that relate to both heart diseases and gum diseases, it is also possible that these are purely coincidental. For example, people who take an effort to maintain good heart health, through diet and exercise, also tend to be the people who take good care of their oral health, which could potentially taint any comprehensive study on the correlation between the two.
As a periodontist, we are specifically interested in anything that has to do with gum and oral health, so the potential connection between heart health and that of your gums is a fascinating subject. Meanwhile, it should be noted that no comprehensive consensus has been reached on what that connection is, or if one even exists. All, we do know, is that periodontists and cardiologist have to investigate many similarities to come to two very different diagnoses on two very different parts of the body.
Where it gets interesting is when you consider that the bacteria found in atherosclerotic plaque is identical, or virtually identical, to the bacteria found by periodontists in gum disease. One potential explanation for this phenomena is this. People with gum disease will release the bacteria, in their gums, into the blood stream every time they brush their teeth. This bacteria, theoretically, could cause the body significant damage by releasing proteins also found in the artery walls. The body would respond by making the blood clot more easily. Blood clots, as most of us know, lead to severe challenges with the heart.
Another area of similarity is the level of CRP or C-reactive protein. Periodontists know that patients with periodontal disease experience a significantly higher level of CRP, which causes inflammation of the mouth. Theoretically this inflammation of the mouth can cause swelling throughout the body, which in turn puts a person at serious risk for a heart attack. Cardiologists and periodontists have this in common as well, since both measure the patients CRP. Cardiologists use it as one of the risk factors for people who may have a stroke. They do this because the building up of plaque in the arteries is an inflammatory process.
There is a plethora of information on the potential connections between periodontal diseases, gum diseases, and coronary diseases. Recently a comprehensive report was done on the subject. The report looked at over 120 published papers on the two, and while there were no conclusions drawn, there certainly are some similarities and commonalities worth exploring further. In the meantime, as a periodontist, we recommend that patients fight gum disease with frequent dental exams and cleanings along with eating a healthy diet.