man with gum disease

Periodontal disease—aka periodontitis or gum disease—is a severe oral infection where bacteria can spread through your gum tissues into your bloodstream and, thus, the rest of your body. But can gum disease kill you? Are heart disease and oral health linked as closely as it seems? It depends on the way you phrase the question. Just like a lot of people may say certain viruses or diseases can’t kill people, but they can certainly strain your immune system and increase your risk of death if you already have underlying medical issues to begin with. Yes, severe gum disease can put you at a higher risk of a fatal heart attack or stroke. 

Wait. My Mouth Can Give Me A Heart Attack And Kill Me?

According to some research, almost 50% of people with gum disease are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. Fatalities in test subjects were more common in the people with gum disease than those without.[1]

Scientists have even found that the “bad” bacteria found in periodontal infections can make their way into the central nervous system and brain. Considering that bacteria also produce proteins that trigger inflammation, it places a strain on your immune system, which can weaken its response to other types of infections and its ability to overcome certain illnesses.[2]

If you’ve already had heart trouble in the past or are seeing a specialist for cardiovascular disease, you owe it to your health and your family’s peace of mind to treat any active gum infections. 

How Are My Gums Connected To My Heart? (The Oral Systemic Link)

Heart disease and oral health are associated via something we call the “oral-systemic health connection.” In other words, your mouth is connected to other parts of the body via your cardiovascular system. When colonies of “bad” bacteria under your bleeding gums dislodge and float from your gum tissue into your bloodstream, they’re able to accumulate inside of arterial walls, your brain, or other parts of the body. Researchers have even found them in the placenta and umbilical cord of unborn or miscarried babies. 

If you have severely inflamed, bleeding gums, or even tooth loss, it’s safe to say you’re at a higher risk of heart disease that someone whose gums are healthy. 

All too often, we tend to separate the mouth from the rest of the body. I mean, that’s why your medical insurance is separate from your dental insurance coverage; we act like they are two separate entities. But just like a severe infection on your arm or leg strains your immune system or puts you at risk for sepsis, chronic periodontal disease can be bad for your heart and overall cardiovascular system. 

According to numerous studies, severe periodontitis is a serious risk factor for medical emergencies like heart attack and stroke.[3] While a heart attack might actually be what clinically kills you, you might not have had that fatal heart attack if there wasn’t a bacterial presence and inflammatory response because of chronic periodontal disease. It’s like a chain reaction, sort of like smoking and lung cancer. It doesn’t always happen, but the correlation is too strong to ignore. Even Harvard Medical School says you’re 2-3 times more likely to have a heart attack if you have gum disease.[4]

Other Linked Diseases (Kidney Disease, Brain, Diabetes, etc.)

In addition to the added risk of a heart attack, people with gum disease have a more challenging time regulating their blood glucose levels. In other words, if you’re diabetic and don’t address your periodontal infection, you might not ever be able to get your insulin levels under control. You’ll also be more likely to lose teeth because you can’t treat your periodontal disease without managing your diabetes. The two have to be treated jointly.[5]

As many as 60% of respiratory diseases are thought to originate from oral bacteria being inhaled into the lungs. Which is one reason why people who had periodontal disease during the COVID-19 pandemic were more likely to require ventilators during hospitalization.[6]

While the link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s is still being studied, over half (maybe as many as 98%) of people who pass away from this terrible form of dementia were found to have periodontal bacteria in their brains. [7]

Your reproductive health—including issues with infertility, erectile dysfunction, preeclampsia, and stillbirth—also has a strong association with unmanaged gum disease. In couples where the infected partner received periodontal therapy, reproductive health symptoms and conception rates typically improve within a few months. 

These are just a few examples. Other health conditions like cancer, kidney and liver disease, and metabolic disorders all show a positive correlation between their severity and the presence of periodontal infections. 

Prevent Gum Disease With Your Dentist.

Regular checkups allow your dentist and dental hygienist to routinely screen for gum disease so that it can be intercepted early before untreated gingivitis turns into a gum infection. Chronic symptoms of gum inflammation, redness, bleeding, and receding gums should not be ignored.

Your dentist will probably recommend a series of periodontal therapy visits or deep cleanings to remove the bacteria that pose a threat to your teeth and body. Preventative cleanings do not address these areas, so treating gum disease is essential. Good oral hygiene habits and regular professional dental cleaning are also super important in preventing gum disease.

Can Periodontal Disease Cause Death

If you have active gum disease, it’s important to pay attention to the link between heart disease and oral health. You’re 2-3 times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke if you have periodontal disease. Not every heart attack or stroke can kill you, but they could. Think of gum disease like smoking: it puts your health at too much risk to not pay attention to how deadly it can be.  Seek treatment and get your healthy gums back!

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