Is Periodontal Disease a Matter of the Heart?

3D rendering of heartAmerican Heart Month, sponsored by the American Heart Association every February, is designed to raise awareness about the prevalence of heart disease and how to lower your risk for poor heart health. Keeping your mouth clean and healthy isn’t a guaranteed way to prevent heart disease, but experts agree that it certainly reduces your risk for inflammation linked to heart problems and other systemic issues. Periodontal disease, or gum disease, is a chronic inflammatory disease that destroys your gums and underlying jawbone as it progresses. One of the more significant symptoms of diseased gums is bleeding. When your oral tissues are infected, chewing and brushing your teeth can release oral bacteria into the bloodstream. According to recent research, the mechanisms behind periodontal disease, namely the bacteria that incite excessive swelling, are a significant contributor to some cases of coronary heart disease.

What Connects Gum and Heart Health?

Chronic Inflammation

Porphyromonas gingivalis, a main building block of dental plaque, is a type of oral bacteria that dodges your immune system’s attempts to drive it out through inflammation. The continuous presence of the microbes results in continuous inflammation and subsequent damage to your gum tissues. While trying to define the exact mechanisms behind gum disease’s link to heart disease, Dr. Caroline Genco and Dr. James Hamilton, from the Boston University School of Medicine, have demonstrated how P. gingivalis infection accelerates atherosclerosis (a disease of the arteries) in a mouse model. Atherosclerosis involves narrowing and hardening of the arteries, often due to plaque buildup in the arteries’ walls. P. gingivalis has been found among the arterial plaque buildup in some cases of athlerosclerosis. The bacterium also exacerbates infection and inflammation in the innominate artery, which is a significant precursor to arterial disease.

Bacteria Disguised as Proteins

Though among the more thoroughly-studied oral-systemic connections, P. gingivalis aren’t the only mouth germs that can affect your heart’s health and function. Streptococcus gordonii are unique in that they don’t actively contribute to dental disease, but if allowed into your bloodstream through diseased gums, they can wreak havoc with your cardiovascular system. Scientists at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and the University of Bristol have discovered that S. gordonii produces a molecule on its surface to mimic the protein, fibrinogen. As a blood-clotting factor, fibrinogen (or bacteria disguised as it) activates your blood’s platelets, causing them to clump around the microbes and protect them from your immune system. S. gordonii aren’t known for inciting inflammation, but the excessive blood clotting can cause some vessels to swell or growths to appear on the heart’s valves, a condition known as endocarditis.

About Your Encinitas Periodontist:

As a board-certified periodontist, Dr. Ann Kania is specially qualified to diagnose and treat issues concerning periodontal tissue and the supportive structures of a patient’s smile, as well as place dental implants for patients with missing teeth. To seek Dr. Kania’s expertise, visit our office or contact us today at (760) 642-0711.