Previous research has established a link between gum disease and an increased risk for severe systemic health problems, including heart attack. But recent research has, for the first time, demonstrated that chronic periodontitis—an advanced and relatively common form of gum disease—is directly related to the severity of a heart attack.
Periodontal Disease and Heart Attacks
In recent decades, we have learned much about the connection between our oral health—our teeth, gums and mouth—and our systemic health. Though we often consider our dental health and general health differently, and even see separate specialists for varying aspects of care, they are interrelated components of our overall well-being.
For example, the bacterial infection that leads to periodontal disease can eventually spread and affect other areas of the body if not treated. One of the impacts of advanced gum disease is a heightened risk for heart attacks and other health concerns.
In the case of heart attacks, bacteria from the body enter the bloodstream, where they stick to the platelets, blood cells that help our blood clot. This can form clots within the bloodstream and interrupt the flow of blood to the heart.
Gum Disease and Heart Attack Severity
Researchers at Spain’s University of Granada recently completed a study that indicates the severity of periodontal disease impacts the severity of future heart attacks. The research findings were published in the Journal of Dental Research.
The study focused on 112 heart attack patients with varying levels of periodontal disease. The severity of gum disease was tracked, as were the study participants’ levels of myoglobin and troponin I, two biomarkers commonly used to detect heart attacks.
The research found that the patients with the most advanced gum disease suffered the worst heart attacks.
Oral Health Problems are Systemic Health Problems
A group of clinicians and educators through the New York University College of Nursing’s Teaching Oral-Systemic Health (TOSH) program is attempting to broaden awareness about the importance of including oral health in systemic health assessments.
The TOSH effort seeks to transition the traditional head, ears, eyes, nose and throat examinations to include the addition of teeth, gums, tongue and palate. Backed by research funded by the Health Resources and Service Administration, the TOSH group recently published research that supports its mission in the American Journal of Public Health in a paper appropriately titled “Putting the Mouth Back in the Head.”
The TOSH group believes that preparatory curriculum for future health professionals should incorporate oral cavity assessment to the so-called HEENT exam. This would include “a comprehensive focus on the oral-systemic history and physical examination of the teeth, gums, mucosa and palate.”
The effort acknowledges that most primary care providers consider the oral cavity as part of the traditional HEENT exam. A revised approach that includes a thorough oral health assessment would, they believe, better develop medical students’ and clinicians’ oral health knowledge and clinical practice skills, as well as help better educate patients to maintain good health for life.
Austin, Texas, dentist Dr. Dan Matthews understands how your oral health affects your overall health and happiness. To learn how Dr. Matthews can help you restore a vibrant, healthy smile, please contact Dan Matthews, DDS, online or call our office at 512-452-2273 to schedule a complimentary consultation.