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Gum Disease: Heart Disease

Bacterial endocarditis is a condition characterized by inflammation of the interior lining of the heart and heart valves, generally caused by bacterial infection. People with abnormal or damaged heart valves are at the highest risk for infective endocarditis, but infection also occurs in normal valves when a large number of bacteria are present. Researchers believe that when an individual is diagnosed with periodontal disease, a normal task such as chewing or brushing can injure gum tissue allowing bacteria to enter the bloodstream. The accumulation of these bacteria on heart valves often leads to a fatal infection if not treated.

Coronary artery disease is another type of cardiovascular disease in which the walls of the coronary arteries (heart blood vessels) gradually thicken due to the build-up of fatty proteins. Often, blood clots form in narrowed coronary arteries and normal blood flow activity is obstructed. This depletes the nutrients and oxygen the heart needs to function properly. Scientists believe that bacteria found in the oral cavity enter the bloodstream, attach to fatty plaques, and contribute to clot formation. Researchers have found that people suffering from periodontal disease are twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease as those without gum disease. Current data leads scientists to believe that periodontal disease is an important risk factor for heart disease working in concert with other risk factors such as age, smoking, diabetes, hypertension, and elevated blood cholesterol.

Additionally, in a recent study that looked at the causal relationship of oral infection as a risk factor for stroke, people diagnosed with acute cerebrovascular ischemia were found more likely to have an oral infection when compared to those in a control group.

The American Heart Association estimates approximately 58 million Americans, 1 in 5, suffer from cardiovascular disease making it the number one cause of death in the U.S. Working to prevent gum disease or treat it at the earliest possible stages, may be one way to reduce the number of annual deaths due to heart disease.