What does your dentist know about the health of your heart? It may be more than you think. "Dentists are trained to look for gum disease," says Mark Durham, DMD, associate professor at the University of Utah School of Dentistry. "In 2012 the American Heart Association announced a possible association between gum disease and heart disease. While the association still is not fully understood, it is important to acknowledge."
Gum disease is caused by a build-up of plaque along and under the gum line. The build-up causes inflammation, pain, infection and, in severe cases, tooth loss. It affects around 80% of American adults, and often goes undiagnosed. It's important to recognize the warning signs even in the earliest stages. "It could just be chronic bad breath, or a bad taste in your mouth," Durham says. "See a dentist at that point, and don't wait for symptoms to progress to swollen gums, bleeding gums or loosening teeth.
Poor oral care is a main reason for gum disease, though there are contributing factors as well. "Behaviors like smoking, and poor nutrition, and conditions like diabetes can lead to gum disease," says Durham. "These are also factors that increase the risk of heart disease." When it comes to keeping your gums healthy, the best defense is a good offense. The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth twice a day, cleaning between them regularly, and maintaining a healthy diet. Oh, and one other very important thing. "Make sure you see your dentist regularly," says Durham. "Standard exams and cleanings are key. Don't just come in when there's a problem, but instead to prevent those problems."