Faced with the choice of enduring a bad toothache or going to the dentist, we generally tried to ride out the bad tooth - Joseph Barbera


image by: Jacksonville Endodontic Associates

The idea that tooth decay can be life threatening may seem absurd at first, but there's evidence to suggest that what goes on inside your mouth may have far-reaching implications for your whole body health. One of the most widely believed connections is that between poor oral health and heart disease. This long acknowledged potential relationship was further cemented by a 2015 study published in the Journal of Periodontology, which found a solid link between less than stellar oral hygiene and hypertension (high blood pressure), itself a well-known risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD). CVD is the leading cause of death in the U.S.

There are a couple of theories that may explain why there's a link between heart disease and gum disease. In one, oral bacteria get into the bloodstream through sores in bleeding gums and attach themselves to the fatty plaques lining the blood vessels in the heart. Once there, they obstruct blood flow, which can lead to a heart attack. In another theory, arterial inflammation caused by periodontal bacteria restricts blood flow, eventually causing a heart attack. The 2015 Journal of Periodontology study suggests that inflammation and blood pressure elevation could be the connection between periodontitis and potentially heart disease-inducing hypertension.

Although there's no definitive proof yet that poor oral health causes heart disease, it does seem to be a risk factor, lending support to the possibility that the mouth and body connection plays a much larger role in human health and wellness than we've suspected until now, including quality of life issues and longevity. However, research has yet to establish with rock-solid certainty that treatment of periodontal disease will lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

Poor oral health has also been associated with other diseases like stroke, dementia, rheumatoid arthritis, some cancers, diabetes, respiratory infection, pregnancy problems, kidney disease and even erectile dysfunction! In most scenarios, the thinking is that bacteria from infected teeth gets into a patient's bloodstream and causes harm. If that last disease risk doesn't get men to floss, nothing will!

Source: Alia Hoyt & Sara Elliot, Can tooth infections lead to death?, How Stuff Works, April 8, 2019.

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Last Updated : Friday, July 24, 2020