Recent studies have shown that oral health is as good an indicator of heart disease as cholesterol levels, and that patients who suffer from periodontal disease are twice as likely to have coronary artery disease. Although the link between the two is still being investigated, one of the theories is that the bacteria which live in dental plaque (not to be confused with the plaque which builds up in arteries and causes blood clots and heart disease) enter the blood stream through the gums and find their way to existing minor fatty blockages in veins and arteries, directly contributing to plaque build-up. It is also possible that the bacteria activate the body’s immune response which narrows arteries and allows for blockages to form.
Because the relationship is still not entirely clear, periodontal disease is used as an early warning sign of heart disease and enables doctors to monitor patients with a history of poor oral health more closely; however doctors do not base diagnoses solely on the presence of gum disease. Patients should do all they can to minimize their risk for heart disease, which includes losing weight if needed, eating well, exercising, and controlling conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. However, thanks to the new research which has proven a link between heart disease and oral health patients should take brushing and flossing extremely seriously (especially if they are already at risk for heart disease) in order to deny bacteria access to their bloodstream.