When your employees think about getting heart-healthy, chances are they’ll think first and foremost about changing their diet, starting an exercise program or quitting a bad habit like smoking.
These are all great ways to get the heart in better shape, but what your employees may not realize is that their oral health is also a crucial part of their heart health. During American Heart Month this February, take the time to remind employees about the often-overlooked connection between gum disease, tooth infection and heart health.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the U.S. About 695,000 Americans die from heart disease each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies have uncovered a connection between heart disease and gum health, revealing that the presence of gum disease could triple the risk of a heart attack. This is believed to be due to inflammation from bacteria in the gums, which may eventually lead to a narrowing of arteries and subsequent heart complications.
So, how can a tooth infection cause heart problems? Like most people, your employees probably tend to think of the mouth as completely separate from the rest of the body. However, a growing body of evidence now supports the idea of the oral-systemic connection, emphasizing the interplay between oral health and overall well-being, including cardiovascular health. One of the primary gateways for this connection is the bloodstream.
Periodontal disease, a chronic inflammatory condition affecting the gums and supporting structures of the teeth, has been identified as a potential risk factor for heart disease. The link between periodontal disease and cardiovascular issues lies in the inflammatory response triggered by oral bacteria. When gums are infected, bacteria can enter the bloodstream, leading to systemic inflammation and affecting blood vessels throughout the body.
Maintaining oral health isn’t just about a bright smile, it's an important part of our overall well-being. Before we delve into the various ways teeth are connected to hearts, here are some common warning signs to watch out for:
Early detection and treatment of gum disease and tooth decay are essential in maintaining oral health and, by extension, heart health. Encouraging your employees to look out for these signs and keep up with regular dental check-ups can play a pivotal role in their overall well-being.
When your employees notice a change in their oral health or discover a tooth infection, heart issues likely aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. However, they may be surprised to learn that researchers have found a possible link between poor oral health and certain heart conditions.
How can bad teeth cause heart problems? Let's explore the relationship between gum health, bad teeth and heart disease.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects the force of blood against the walls of our arteries. Our arteries play a crucial role in distributing oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. But can a tooth infection cause high blood pressure? The short answer is: yes, it’s possible. Medical research indicates that untreated dental issues, particularly those leading to tooth loss, may be linked to increased blood pressure.
Endocarditis involves inflammation of the heart's inner lining, usually caused by an infection. While developing a heart infection from the teeth is rare, poor oral hygiene may allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream through cuts in the gums. Then, it’s possible that bacteria could reach the heart and contribute to conditions like endocarditis.
Atherosclerosis is characterized by plaque buildup in the arteries, leading them to narrow and become less flexible. Surprisingly, periodontal health might be partially responsible for this condition. Research has found periodontal pathogens in the plaques that could contribute to atherosclerosis.
Both stroke and heart attack involve disruptions in blood flow to the brain and heart, respectively. Gum inflammation and bleeding may cause changes in blood flow and oxygen delivery, which might contribute to an increased risk of stroke. In some cases, there may be a link between tooth pain and heart attacks due to the location of the vagus nerve in the jaw.
Research suggests a connection between poor oral health and an increased risk of coronary artery disease, as demonstrated by the relationship between periodontal disease and biomarkers of CAD. This link is thought to be due to bacteria from inflamed gums and periodontal diseases entering the bloodstream, which could cause inflammation in the blood vessels and heart.
Ongoing research in the field of oral and cardiovascular health continues to shed new light on these complex connections. However, with each new study, we gain a more complete understanding of how preventive dental care can support a healthy heart.
Maintaining good oral hygiene is emerging as a key factor in preventing cardiovascular diseases. If your team members are looking to get heart-healthy, and especially if they have an existing condition, these simple steps will support their well-being:
By incorporating these tips, your team can take proactive steps toward maintaining their oral health while reducing the risk of gum disease, tooth decay and heart disease.
Your employees are likely not aware of the essential connection between poor oral health, bad teeth and heart disease. Many of them may not realize they have gum disease because the condition is often painless. Oftentimes, people don’t know their gums are in poor health until they’ve lost or are losing a tooth.
Delta Dental has a wealth of resources to educate your employees during American Heart Month and beyond. You can:
Routine dental checkups and cleanings, covered by all Delta Dental plans as diagnostic and preventive services, can help protect heart health by maintaining oral health and monitoring for gum disease.
Looking to improve your support for employees with or at risk of heart disease? SmileWay® Wellness Benefits as part of your employees’ plans offers additional coverage for gum treatment for those diagnosed with heart disease. Talk to your Account Manager about how your dental plan can improve employee health and reduce long-term costs.