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It’s become increasingly clear that there’s a strong connection between the health of your mouth and the health of your body. Studies have found links between poor oral health and conditions like cancer, pneumonia, cognitive issues, diabetes and kidney disease and heart disease. Gum disease also can raise your risk of severe COVID-19 infection or death.
Some researchers are drilling deeper into the various aspects of health that are affected by oral issues like gum disease. In fact, one recent study made this connection between gum disease and a precursor of heart disease…
Severe gum infection and hypertension
According to a recent study, adults with the severe gum infection periodontitis may be much more likely to have higher blood pressure compared to people with healthy gums.
Periodontitis is an infection of the gum tissues that hold the teeth in place. It can lead to progressive inflammation and bone or tooth loss. Preventing and treating periodontitis can result in reduced inflammation markers within the body as well as improved function of the endothelium, the membrane lining the inside of the heart and blood vessels.
The goal of the researchers in this study, published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, was to investigate the association between severe periodontitis and high blood pressure in healthy adults without a confirmed diagnosis of hypertension.
The study involved 250 adults with generalized, severe periodontitis, defined as gum infection in 50 percent or more of the teeth, and 250 adults without severe gum disease. Other than the periodontitis, all of the participants were healthy and had no other chronic health conditions.
The researchers found a link between a gum disease diagnosis and increased odds of high blood pressure, independent of other risk factors. Study participants with gum disease were twice as likely to have systolic blood pressure values of 140 mm Hg or higher than participants with healthy gums. They also discovered the presence of bleeding gums, indicating active gum inflammation, was a marker for higher systolic blood pressure.
Bleeding gums may mean undiagnosed hypertension
Almost half of the participants with gum disease and 42 percent of the control group individuals had blood pressure values that were 130/80 mm Hg or greater, a reading in line with a hypertension diagnosis. Participants in the periodontitis group also showed lower levels of HDL, or “good,” cholesterol and increased levels of glucose; LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol; high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, an indicator of coronary artery disease; and white blood cells than those in the control group.
The study didn’t account for other factors that can contribute to blood pressure, such as abdominal obesity, salt intake, use of anti-inflammatory medications, hormone treatments, stress or any other oral health conditions.
“This evidence indicates that periodontal bacteria cause damage to the gums and also triggers inflammatory responses that can impact the development of systemic diseases including hypertension,” says corresponding author Dr. Francesco D’Aiuto, professor of periodontology and head of the periodontology unit at the UCL Eastman Dental Institute in London. “This would mean that the link between gum disease and elevated blood pressure occurs well before a patient develops high blood pressure.”
Dr. D’Aiuto notes the study also found a “worryingly high” number of individuals are unaware of a possible hypertension diagnosis.
“Integration of hypertension screening by dental professionals with referrals to primary care professionals and periodontal disease screening by medical professionals with referrals to periodontists could improve detection and treatment of both conditions to improve oral health and reduce the burden of hypertension and its complications,” he says.
Dr. D’Aiuto says oral health activities like brushing your teeth twice daily are proven very effective in managing and preventing the most common oral conditions. “And our study’s results indicate they can also be a powerful and affordable tool to help prevent hypertension,” he adds.
Keeping gum disease at bay
We all know the drill: to protect the health of your teeth and gums, brush at least twice a day, floss at least once a day and see your dentist for professional cleanings at least twice a year.
But, like most things that change with age, so does the environment in your mouth — your oral microbiome. That’s one reason you might want to ditch antiseptic mouth rinses that kill off good bacteria along with the bad.
Good bacteria in your oral microbiome not only keep your mouth healthy, but it’s one more way the health of your mouth is tied to your blood pressure. Foods we eat that contain nitrates are part of a natural chemical process that takes place in the mouth — in conjunction with beneficial bacteria — to help the body produce nitric oxide or NO. NO is a vasodilator (artery opener) that is beneficial to the epithelial cells that line your arteries, keeping them flexible and pliable so they are capable of healthier flow.
Foods that can help you produce NO to promote a healthier mouth and blood pressure include beets, garlic, leafy greens like spinach, Swiss chard, arugula, cabbage, kale and algae spirulina.
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People with severe gum disease may be twice as likely to have increased blood pressure — American Heart Association
10 Home Remedies for Gingivitis — Healthline
Preventing gum disease — Delta Dental
Brushing your teeth — Mouth Healthy