Here at Loop Perio, we have found that most of our Chicago area patients value their oral health. They understand that by maintaining good oral health, they avoid pain, keep a nice, bright smile, and reap the benefits of that smile in terms of added self-confidence and a better response from others in social situations. But not everyone understands the connection between oral health and heart health.
The Fundamentals of Heart Health
Essentially, a healthy heart is one that beats regularly, circulates blood everywhere it should without impedance, and doesn’t have too work so hard doing it that it’s under a chronic strain. (A normal resting heart rate for adults is 60 to 100 beats per minute.) If all three things are true of you, you may well have good heart health. If not, it’s probably a good idea to see a doctor
The catch here is that your heart and circulatory system are hidden inside your body. You can’t just look at yourself and know what shape they’re in and how they’re functioning. But you can be aware of the various types of heart disease and the symptoms that go with them.
Types and Symptoms of Heart Disease
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common form of heart problem. It happens when the arteries supplying blood to heart muscle become narrowed and hardened. Common symptoms are chest pain (angina) that can manifest as discomfort, heaviness, burning, or other forms of discomfort, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, accelerated heartbeat, and dizziness.
A heart attack occurs when blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked, possibly because of a blood clot or CAD. Common symptoms include pain or discomfort in the chest or arm, discomfort radiating out to other parts of the body, indigestion, choking, nausea (possibly severe enough to produce vomiting), sweating, weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness, and anxiety.
An arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rhythm. Symptoms can include palpitations, a pounding feel in the chest, dizziness, lightheadedness, weakness, fatigue, fainting, shortness of breath, and discomfort in the chest.
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a particular kind of arrhythmia. People with this condition can experience palpitations, lack of energy, dizziness, and chest discomfort.
Heart valve disease is a condition in which the valves don’t facilitate the pumping of blood as they should. This can happen because they’re hardened or “leaky,” which means they aren’t closing as they should. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, weakness, dizziness, swollen feet or ankles, a bloated feeling in the abdomen, chest discomfort, quick weight gain, and palpitations.
Heart failure refers to a severe failure of the heart to function as it’s supposed to. The sufferer can experience fatigue, dizziness, rapid or irregular heartbeat, swollen ankles, legs, or abdomen, nausea, palpitations, chest pain, quick weight gain, shortness of breath, and a cough that produces white sputum.
Congenital heart defects can be detected early, perhaps because of a heart murmur, or they can go undetected for a long time. When they become a problem, they might produce shortness of breath, the symptoms of heart failure, and limited ability to exercise. In babies and children, they can produce cyanosis, poor feeding, rapid breathing, inability to exercise, poor weight gain, and recurring lung infections.
Heart muscle disease, or cardiomyopathy, can refer to several disease of the heart muscle. In most cases, the heart muscle thickens, enlarges, or becomes rigid. The symptoms can include chest pain, heart failure symptoms, fatigue, fainting, palpitations, and swollen lower extremities.
Pericarditis is inflammation of the layers of tissue that surround the heart, hold it in place, and generally help it work. Sufferers can experience chest pain, increased heart rate, or fever.
The Relationship Between Oral Health and Heart Health
The relationship between oral health and heart health is bacteria and other germs. When an infection resulting from periodontal disease or some other problem in the mouth takes hold, it can eventually spread to other parts of the body. If bacteria reach the heart, they can attach themselves to any damaged tissue, produce inflammation, and exacerbate the existing problem. One possible consequence is endocarditis, inflammation of the inner lining of the heart. Research has also established links between bacteria and the cardiovascular conditions atherosclerosis (clogged arteries) and stroke.
How concerned should you be about the relationship between oral health and heart health? It depends of the current state of your oral health. If you mouth looks and feels fine, and the dentist gave you a clean bill of health at a recent checkup, you may not have to worry much about it. But if you’ve been diagnosed with a form of gum disease like gingivitis or advanced periodontal disease, the situation is more problematic. There’s a definite risk of harmful bacteria entering the bloodstream, attaching to blood vessels and producing elevated C reactive protein, a marker for inflammation, and so increasing the chances of heart disease and stroke. It can happen even if your gums aren’t visibly inflamed.
Clearly, then, it’s best to catch gum disease in the early stages. Knowing the symptoms can help you do that.
Symptoms of Periodontal Disease
Red, sore, or swollen gums
Bleeding gums upon brushing or flossing
Pus or other signs of infection in the mouth
Gum recession (the gums pull away from the teeth)
Frequent bad breath or a frequent bad taste in the mouth
Loose teeth or teeth that feel like they’re shifting away from other teeth
Maintaining Good Oral Health
Naturally, you’d prefer never to have to deal with any of these symptoms or the underlying condition in the first place. It would be far preferable to maintain good oral health throughout your life, and fortunately, a good daily oral hygiene routine can help considerably.
Brush your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush that’s comfortable to use. Be sure to clean every tooth surface, and use an ADA-approved toothpaste. Floss as well, and see your dentist every six months (or oftener, if recommended) for checkups and cleanings. It’s important to be aware that even if you’re maintaining your daily oral health regimen scrupulously, you still may not be clearing away ever bit of plaque, and over time, plaque hardens into the tartar that can lead to periodontal disease. Home care can’t get rid of tartar. Only professional cleaning can do it.
For the sake of both your oral health and your heart health, we encourage you to follow this plan, and, if you need to find a dentist in the Chicago area, we invite you to call Loop Perio at (312) 782-4068 and schedule an appointment.