Treating gum disease may help the heart

Gum disease has long been linked to heart disease. New research suggests that for people with both conditions, treating the gum disease may lower their health care costs and the number of times they end up in the hospital, reports the November 2014 Harvard Heart Letter.

Gum disease begins when the sticky, bacteria-laden film known as plaque builds up around your teeth. Daily tooth brushing and flossing and regular cleanings by a dentist or hygienist can prevent and even reverse gingivitis, the earliest form of gum disease (also called periodontal disease). Left untreated, gingivitis can turn into gum disease. The gums pull back from the root of the tooth, creating a tiny pocket that gradually widens. Eventually, the infection and inflammation attack the tissue that holds the tooth to the jawbone, which can cause the tooth to loosen and possibly fall out.

A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reviewed the medical and dental records of people who had gum disease in addition to cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease (usually a stroke), or another chronic health problem. People who had at least one periodontal disease treatment had lower medical costs and fewer hospitalizations within four years of the treatment compared with people who weren't treated. For cardiovascular or cerebrovascular disease, health care costs were between 10% and 40% lower.

Treating gum disease reduces the body's burden of infection and inflammation, which seems to help people respond better to treatments for other health conditions, like heart disease, says periodontist Dr. Alpdogan Kantarci of the Harvard-affiliated Forsyth Institute, a not-for-profit research organization focused on oral health. "As we're always telling our physician colleagues, 'Make sure your patients are getting regular dental care,' because we may be able to help improve their overall health," Dr. Kantarci says.

Read the full-length article: "Treating gum disease: Save your smile, help your heart?"