November 16, 2004
Only the camel has a dirtier mouth than humans, so it’s no surprise that bacteria is living and breeding between teeth and around the gums.
But evidence suggests controlling bacteria is not just essential for a healthy mouth — it may also be important for a healthy heart.
Research shows a correlation between what goes on with bacteria and infection in the mouth and diseases including heart disease and diabetes, says Scottsdale dentist Dr. John Badolato.
Although research is still on the ground level and no specific links have been established, many dentists and cardiologists agree a relationship exists, making it that much more important for people to develop proper dental care habits early in life.
A mouth overrun with bacteria is susceptible to gingivitis; symptoms include bleeding, sore gums. Untreated gingivitis can advance to periodontitis, which is often irreversible.
There is then a greater chance that bacteria will flourish and become destructive, increasing bacteria in the bloodstream that affects the heart — periodontal bacteria can enter the bloodstream and travel to major organs and lead to new infections.
Cardiologist Dr. Bernard Villegas said that there are now about 200 factors for heart disease, and that while most people recognize "The Big Five" — family history, hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes — dental infections are substantial predictors.
"It has been shown over the last two years that there is a strong relationship between dental care and heart disease," he says.
While most people don’t develop periodontal disease until they are adults, Badolato says establishing positive dental care routines as children is crucial to overall health.
To start, kids need to have positive experiences with the dentist early so they are not afraid to return. This will set the tone for the rest of their lives, Badolato says. He recommends that healthy kids and adults have a cleaning every six months and every four months if their gums bleed regularly. They should also get regular checkups.
"Don’t hide from the dentist," he says.