Harvey B. Simon, M.D.
Tribune Media Services
October 15, 2010
Harvard Health Letters
Q. I'm a 56-year-old man with high blood pressure. At my last check-up, my dentist found gum disease and referred me to a periodontist for treatment. I know that high blood pressure increases my risk of heart disease, and I've been told that gum disease does, too. Is it true, and will the treatment help?
A. Dentists and cardiologists have been trying to find answers to your questions but they have not yet succeeded. Several studies have reported that people with periodontitis are more likely to have heart disease than people with healthy gums. But the link may be less than meets the eye.
Heart disease and gum disease share several common risk factors, including the male gender, advancing age, smoking, and diabetes. As a result, many people who are at risk for gum disease would also be at risk for heart disease even if the two conditions had no direct link. Still, because periodontitis is an inflammatory condition, it does boost blood levels of C-reactive protein and fibrinogen, both of which have been implicated in coronary artery disease.
It will take awhile to sort out the relationship between gum disease and the heart. And scientists are also working on your second question. The Periodontitis and Vascular Events (PAVE) study is evaluating the effects of periodontal treatment in patients who have both severe gum disease and clear-cut coronary artery disease.
Periodontal treatment may or may not help your heart—but it will help your gums and teeth, and good dental health has been linked to good general health. So keep flossing and brushing, use an antibacterial mouth rinse regularly, and see your dentist. And while you are looking for ways to protect your heart, don't forget the proven benefits of a good diet, regular exercise, avoiding tobacco in all its forms, and controlling blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, body weight, and stress.
Good dental care will protect your teeth from plaque, and good health habits will protect your arteries from plaques.—Harvey B. Simon, M.D., Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch
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