Gum disease: Dentist explains how you can prevent it
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Regularly brushing and flossing your teeth is key when it comes to good oral hygiene. It prevents issues like tooth decay and gum disease. But now a new study has shown it could even help protect your heart.
Research by a team from Hiroshima University in Japan found a significant correlation between gum and heart health.
From a study of 76 participants with cardiac disease they established a link between periodontitis, a severe gum infection, and atrial fibrosis.
Atrial fibrosis is scarring to an appendage of the heart’s left atrium that can lead to an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation.
This is a condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate.
People with atrial fibrillation have a higher risk of strokes and even heart failure, both of which can be fatal.
Speaking in Science Daily, first study author Shunsuke Miyauchi, explained: “Periodontitis is associated with a long-standing inflammation, and inflammation plays a key role in atrial fibrosis progression and atrial fibrillation pathogenesis.
“We hypothesised that periodontitis exacerbates atrial fibrosis.
“This histological study of left atrial appendages aimed to clarify the relationship between clinical periodontitis status and degree of atrial fibrosis.”
As part of the research, the left atrial appendages were surgically removed from the patients.
Scientists then analysed the tissue to establish the correlation between severity of the atrial fibrosis and severity of the gum disease.
It was discovered that the worse the periodontitis was, the worse the fibrosis was, suggesting that the inflammation of gums may intensify inflammation and disease in the heart.
“This study provides basic evidence that periodontitis can aggravate atrial fibrosis and can be a novel modifiable risk factor for atrial fibrillation,” said corresponding author Yukiko Nakano.
Ms Nakano believed that good gum care could therefore help atrial fibrillation management in the same way that improving other risk factors such as weight, activity levels, tobacco and alcohol use does.
However, she added: “Further evidence is required for establishing that periodontitis contributes to the atrial fibrosis in a causal manner and that periodontal care can alter fibrosis.
“One of our goals is to confirm that periodontitis is a modifiable risk factor for atrial fibrillation and to promote dental specialists’ participation in comprehensive atrial fibrillation management.
“Periodontitis is an easy modifiable target with lower cost among known atrial fibrillation risk factors.
“Thus, the achievement of this study series may bring benefits for many people worldwide.”
Factors that can increase the risk of periodontitis include:
- Poor oral health habits
- Smoking or chewing tobacco
- Hormonal changes, such as those related to pregnancy or menopause
- Recreational drug use, such as smoking marijuana or vaping
- Inadequate nutrition, including vitamin C deficiency
- Certain medications that cause dry mouth or gum changes
- Conditions that cause decreased immunity, such as leukaemia, HIV/AIDS and cancer treatment
- Certain diseases, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease.
Symptoms of the condition include:
- Swollen or puffy gums
- Bright red, dusky red or purplish gums
- Gums that feel tender when touched
- Gums that bleed easily
- Pink-tinged toothbrush after brushing
- Spitting out blood when brushing or flossing your teeth
- Bad breath
- Pus between your teeth and gums
- Loose teeth or loss of teeth
- Painful chewing
- New spaces developing between your teeth
- Gums that pull away from your teeth (recede), making your teeth look longer than normal
- A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite.
Brushing your teeth twice a day and attending regular dental appointments can help prevent periodontitis.
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