Contrary to what you hear from a LOT of dental marketing, heart disease isn’t caused by gum disease. It’s technically correct that gum disease and heart disease are correlated or “linked,” but there is currently no evidence that gum disease causes heart disease. Or stroke. Or other health problems.
Here’s the thing…a lot of these diseases have similar risk factors. For instance, if you are a smoker you are at greater risk for heart attack and stroke as well as gum disease (as well as countless other health problems). So the correlation between these maladies may have more to do with similar risk factors than the actual expression of the disease.
I’m not saying that treating gum disease is unimportant. It absolutely is important and worthwhile! Treating gum disease early and thoroughly (which includes teaching patients how to maintain their gums and teeth at home) could help patients avoid pain, infection, tooth loss and expensive dental work in the future. A few years ago I compared gum disease to one of my favorite comic book characters:
“So imagine this calculus on the surface of the roots of your tooth like a bunch of tiny slivers. Your innate immune system recognizes it as a bad guy, but cannot remove it. This makes the innate immune system mad. Kind of like when Bruce Banner gets mad. And the madder your innate immune system gets, the stronger the reaction it creates to try and remove this invader. It starts dumping the toxic chemicals it uses to kill bad bacteria and other bugs into the tissues supporting your teeth! These chemicals, along with toxins from the biofilm itself, start to break down the tissues that support your teeth. It’s kind of like you have an angry Hulk smashing around in your gum tissues, but he’s not able to get rid of the bad guys. And this makes him really angry! So instead, he starts attacking YOU!”
Essentially, gum disease is a combination of bacterial build up in your mouth and your immune system creating inflammation that breaks down the tissues supporting your teeth. Localized inflammation around the structures of the teeth causes the problem. Can this localized inflammation cause inflammation in the rest of your body?
The best answer at this point is, “maybe.” Ongoing research could indicate a more direct causative effect in the future. But for now, it’s not there. Even the American Heart Association agrees. The best way to prevent heart disease still continue to be:
- quit smoking (and if you don’t smoke, don’t start!)
- maintain a healthy weight
- control your blood pressure
- stay active
For the moment, treating gum disease isn’t on their list.
There are some dental professionals that try and use this “connection” between gum disease and “whole body health” as a scare tactic in order to promote treatment. Some even want to teach this technique to other dentists to help “fatten the bottom line” for dentists. Which is just perfect, right? As if dentists need something else to wreck our reputation as a profession.
Again, I want to stress to patients that treating gum disease is worthwhile in its own right. We’re interested in your overall health as well…that’s why we screen blood pressure and do a thorough medical history. But treating your dental needs is worthwhile without the baggage of unscientific claims and scare tactics.
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If you’re looking for a dentist in Saginaw, we’re always happy to accept new patients! You can request an appointment online or call the office at (989) 799-9133. And, as always, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I always answer my own emails!