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Does Poor Dental Health Lead to Heart Disease for Seniors?

Once most of us reach retirement age, we tend to start noticing physical ailments creep up that might not have been issues earlier in our lives. Between a new prescription from our doctor to having to get a slightly stronger pair of eyeglasses, the effects of aging impact more than just our activities; they’re significantly related to our quality of life. Yet, many seniors tend to make their dental health less of a priority that other things such as their blood pressure or joint pain.

While this concept is typically related to changes in healthcare and dental coverage, oral health neglect can have serious consequences…including a negative impact on cardiovascular health. Why? Because research has shown that the more severe someone’s gum infection is, the more likely they are to suffer from a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke.

Although dental hygiene and oral health may not be something that some adults struggle with, having generally healthy teeth and gums most of one’s life does not eliminate their risk of suffering from dental related problems once they become older. Age and age-related conditions often make good oral health more of a struggle than most people realize. As such, it’s important not to neglect ongoing preventative care…both for your smile’s sake as well as your heart.

The Dental and Heart Connection

It’s been said for decades that “a person’s smile is the gateway to the rest of the body.” We know now that this old saying is truer than ever before. When inflammation and infection exist inside of the mouth, they typically coexist elsewhere in the body. Oral swelling and higher bacteria levels significantly affect the immune system, making it more challenging to fight or control other medical conditions.

But even scarier is the fact that scientific studies have shown that it’s possible for oral biofilm (a substance primarily made up of the bacteria that gathers on teeth and under gums) of patients with periodontal disease to spread elsewhere within of the body, becoming lodged within blood vessels and the heart. By neglecting the health of the teeth and gums, a person can inadvertently increase their risk of suffering from

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Elevated blood pressure

Even with a good diet, exercise regime, and medication, the risk is severe until the active infection and bacterial levels inside of the mouth are addressed.

Without care, oral infections can allow infectious bacteria to directly enter into the bloodstream and travel elsewhere in the body, ultimately accumulating or lodging inside of the heart or arterial walls.

If you’re currently seeing a heart specialist or taking medication for blood pressure, you may still be positioning yourself for a cardiovascular incident without realizing it. The solution could be as simple as seeing your dentist.

Lower Your Oral Infections to Boost Your Immunity and Heart Health

Like with any other type of medical condition, your body has to work harder to manage it if you have secondary infections that are coexisting. The same is true for periodontal (gum) disease. By eliminating the bacteria inside of your mouth, you reduce the chance of it spreading into your blood supply and consequently boost your immune system.

Start by seeing your dentist twice a year — Although you may not have dental coverage anymore, preventive dental cleanings and routine checkups are the best way to eliminate gum infections. Healthy patients typically require a preventive appointment at least every six months. If you’ve lost dental benefits due to your employment status, then you may want to consider a dental savings plan. Such discount options (such as the ones available with Aetna Dental Offers) can significantly reduce the price of routine dental care. 

Don’t ditch the floss — Perhaps flossing was never a habit that you enjoyed, but it’s the most effective way to loosen and remove biofilm that has accumulated under the gums. Wrap it gently around each tooth, sliding up and down several times just under the gum lines. If flossing is difficult or hurts too much, using a water flosser may be more effective. 

Routine screenings are important — During your dental checkups, ask your dentist or hygienist to screen for periodontal disease. He or she will likely use digital X-rays in combination with a small measuring tool to assess the levels of tissue attachment around each tooth. If “pockets” are too deep, you can create a plan to treat the infection and halt the spread of oral bacteria into your bloodstream.

A healthy smile isn’t just about looking great…your heart could depend on it.

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