As we’ve covered before on our Bronitsky Family Dental blog, your oral health plays a significant role in determining your overall health. Decades worth of research has found that patients who experience tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss have a significantly higher risk for developing a range of chronic health conditions that include heart disease, diabetes, and even rheumatoid arthritis.
While researchers have developed a solid understanding of the mechanisms behind what connects our oral and overall health, they are now beginning to find evidence that poor oral health can also cause additional health complications for patients.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients have an increased risk for both gum disease and cardiovascular disease. This suggests to researchers that the body’s natural immune response to the types of bacteria responsible for the development of gum disease may also be linked to a higher risk for heart disease.
Exposure to the gum disease causing bacteria Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans (Aa) and the protein toxin it creates was strongly linked with atherosclerosis in the carotid and coronary arteries of RA patients. Researchers believe this study marks the time anyone has explored the link between harmful oral bacteria and heart disease in RA patients.
The results of the study were published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology.
Understanding the Mouth/Body Connection
RA patients have an increased risk for developing atherosclerotic heart disease when compared to patients without RA. In addition to most common risk factors for heart disease (diet, weight, age, ethnicity), several factors linked to RA like the duration of rheumatoid arthritis, levels of inflammation, and reduction in dexterity are now being consider additional warning signs for the development of heart disease.
In the study, researchers used CT and ultrasound scans to determine the level of plaque buildup, coronary artery calcification, and the ankle-brachial index in nearly 200 RA patients. Researchers collected and tested saliva samples among the study participants to look for the presence of Porphyromonas gingivialis, a type of bacteria that ranks as one of the primary causes of gum disease.
After examining the data, researchers found that patients who tested as having a higher presence of Porphyromonas gingivialis in their mouths had a coronary artery calcification score that was 90 percent higher than in those without the presence of gum disease. Adjusting for a variety of risk factors, researchers determined that RA patients with gum disease had a 2.23 times higher risk for developing heart disease when compared to patients with healthy gums.
Protect Your Health by Protecting Your Gums
This study marks the latest in a string that only further strengthens the connection that exists between our oral and overall health. As researchers begin to gain a better understanding of how our oral health impacts the long-term health of our bodies, it becomes increasingly clear how important preventative dental care is to lowering the risk for systemic disease.
Researchers have also begun to discover more about how poor oral health may relate to COVID-19 infections. While still preliminary, researchers have found that patients with severe gum disease do have a higher risk for developing more severe COVID complications when compared to those with healthier gums.
As many patients consider whether visiting the dentist during the current pandemic is a risk they’re willing to take, it’s important to keep in mind the interconnectedness between your oral and overall health. Forgoing dental care out of concerns over catching the virus can only increase your risk for developing other health problems once the pandemic is over.
Additionally, recent studies conducted by the World Health Organization have found that the risk of contracting COVID-19 while at the dentist is incredibly low. Overall, when it comes to making a decision on which activities to continue resuming during the pandemic, visiting our team at Bronitsky Family Dental offers an incredibly high return on what little risk you may take.
If you have any questions about the safety protocols we implemented, your risk of contracting the virus from dental care, or what the lack of dental care can mean for your oral health, feel free to contact us. A member of our team will happily assist in answering any questions you may have regarding your health and safety.
With the holidays fast approaching, the team at Bronitsky Family Dental wishes all of our patients a happy and safe remainder to what’s left of 2020, and here’s to a better 2021.