Heart disease kills more American men and women than any other cause of death — taking one in four lives. 

You are probably familiar with some of the many risk factors for heart disease like having diabetes and smoking. Gum disease is another that increases the chance a person will develop heart disease. 

Dr. Richard Olson, a periodontics specialist in Walla Walla, frequently treats very severe cases of gum — periodontal — disease. He points out that heart and gum disease share several common risk factors. For example, a person who smokes and has diabetes is very likely to have severe gum and heart disease. 

Research shows that live bacteria from infected gums can wiggle their way into our blood stream. Once there, if our immune system doesn’t kill them first, these bacteria can lodge themselves in the walls of our blood vessels. 

When this happens, we can end up with inflamed blood vessels that become thicker and harder. This makes it more difficult for our heart to pump blood, and easier to build plaque in the arteries. 

Dr. Olson notes that gum disease is often painless until it becomes severe. Some signs of infected gums are bleeding while cleaning between the teeth and having deep pockets of bacteria around the teeth. Your dentist will inform you if you have these signs. Your dentist can even test your saliva to see if you have the specific strains of “bad” bacteria that can destroy the gums and bone around your teeth. 

If you have a severe infection, your dentist and hygienist have a variety tools to treat it. Specialized cleaning techniques, antiseptics, antibiotics and probiotics are all tools that may help.

Your dentist or hygienist may recommend having professional cleanings performed every two to six months to keep the bad gum bacteria under control.

YouTube has several videos that can show you how quickly bacteria divide. If you wonder why your dental hygienist recommends cleanings at three-month intervals, just watch a couple of these videos and imagine what the bacteria are doing under your gums while you sleep. 

What can you do at home to make your gums healthier?

Dr. Olson says he urges people to remove plaque from their teeth any way they can, with any tool that does a good job. This may be an electric toothbrush or a manual one, dental floss or flossers, a pipe cleaner-type brush or a wooden toothpick. He says the type of tool a person uses matters less

than how thoroughly it is used. 

Now that medical professionals, dental professionals and the public know how bacteria from infected gums can contribute to heart disease, we share the power to control this risk factor. 

When you keep your teeth so clean that your gums don’t bleed at home or during your gum examinations, you have controlled an important contributor to heart disease. 

Kim Glover is a dental hygienist at Broadway Family Dental Care in Milton-Freewater, online at yourbwaydental.com.

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