Hidden Tooth Infections Increase Heart Disease Risk by Almost Three Times


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An infection in your mouth could cause more than oral health issues. According to a 2016 study by the Journal of Dental Research, having an undetected tooth infection increases your risk of heart disease by 2.7 times. The risk is highest when a patient has an infection at the tip of any tooth, even if he or she doesn’t experience pain or other symptoms. The study focused on adults who needed a root canal or gum disease treatment but haven’t yet received either one.

The news from the Journal of Dental Research study is quite concerning when heart disease already contributes to the deaths of 30 percent of adults across the world. Because of this, the Oral Health Foundation is working hard to get the word out about the importance of regular preventive care exams as well as seeking prompt treatment for dental pain.

What Causes Root Infection?

A diet high in sugar and a lack of attention to oral hygiene are the primary reasons that people develop an infection in their mouth that leads to the need for a root canal. The first indications of a root infection, more commonly known as a tooth abscess, typically include swelling and pain when biting into food. If you have this problem, you may also notice that the color of the painful tooth looks different than the others. Some people experience no symptoms, which allows the problem to get much worse before they finally visit a dentist for the diagnosis.

How Does an Oral Infection Relate to Heart Disease?

Your heart and mouth perform two very different functions, but the actions of one still affect the other. For example, the dental condition periodontitis causes inflammation that can increase the likelihood of developing one of several serious health conditions like heart disease. Periodontitis happens when your body tries to fight the growth of bacterial overgrowth that occurs because of cavities. Left unchecked, the infection can get into your bloodstream and travel to your heart.

Results of the Research Study

Medical researchers completed the 2016 Journal of Dental Research study in Finland with men and women whose average age was 62. Of the 508 participants, approximately one-third had an acute coronary syndrome, one-third had stable coronary artery disease, and the remaining one-third had no evidence of heart disease. After obtaining this knowledge, the researchers then used panoramic tomography to view the jaws and teeth of the participants. They discovered that 58 percent of them had at least one inflammatory lesion of clinical significance. Additionally, many of these people had high levels of serum antibodies present in the bacteria that causes infection in root tips.

How to Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease Through Your Oral Health Habits

While the study raises cause for concern, many risk factors are avoidable by developing a good oral healthcare routine. Brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste at least twice per day is a good place to start. For maximum effectiveness, one of the times should be right before you go to sleep for the night. Flossing your teeth is essential also since it removes food particles between teeth that can cause irritation and eventual gum disease. Additionally, be sure to visit your dentist for a cleaning and exam every six months.

Preventing gum disease helps to prevent heart disease as well. Besides paying attention to your oral hygiene, it’s important to eat right, exercise, drink alcohol in moderation, and not smoke or quit smoking. Losing weight if necessary or remaining at a healthy body weight are also important for the prevention of both conditions. Keep in mind that people with gum disease develop heart disease twice as often as those without it.

Other Diseases Associated with Oral Infections

Heart disease is a significant risk factor tied to oral infections, but it’s not the only one. Infections requiring a root canal and gum disease also increase the risk of certain types of cancer, diabetes, and respiratory diseases like pneumonia. That’s several good reasons to make your oral health a priority.

Other Risk Factors Associated with Heart Disease

Poor oral hygiene is often associated with other preventable risk factors for heart disease. Some of these include:

  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Poor diet
  • Diabetes
  • Sedentary lifestyle

Heart disease also has three risk factors that you can’t control, including age over 50, male gender, and a family history of heart problems. At UPMC Western Maryland, we encourage you to focus on the things you can change. Along with improving oral health habits and visiting your dentist, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment for a preventive care exam with your primary care provider at UPMC Western Maryland. He or she will provide you with resources to make important lifestyle changes that can significantly decrease your risk of developing heart disease or having a heart attack.