Cavity Causing Bacteria May Infect The Heart

Cavity Causing Bacteria May Infect The Heart

The Link Between Cavity and A Healthy Heart

A study conducted by University of Florida researchers has found the same bacteria associated with gum problems and diseases such as dental caries or cavities are also linked to heart disease. This discovery could change the way heart conditions are diagnosed and treated. Oral bacteria can be introduced into the bloodstream raising the risk for arteriosclerosis. This is a type of heart problem where the arteries become blocked.

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Gum disease affects as many as half of the population in developed countries such as the United States. Gum diseases such as cavity are not linked as a traditional risk factor for heart disease, according to cardiovascular experts. Though the American Heart Association (2012) supports a link between poor gum health and cardiovascular problems, the correlation does not assume causality. Studies have found that the following types of bacteria cause gum problems and in conjunction, heart problems as well:

  • Polyphyromonas gingivalis
  • Tannerella forsythia
  • Treponema denticola
  • Fusobacterium nucleatum

Funded by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and the NIH, this study is part of the larger efforts to study the effect of dental problems on overall health. There is a strong disconnect between oral health and general health in particular, in the medical discipline, But experts now feel this should change. A growing body of scientific evidence points to direct links between oral and holistic/systemic health. The goal is now to increase medical awareness about the link between oral bacterial infection and heart diseases.

Evidence Of the Link

While a debate is now prevalent on whether gum disease threatens heart health, the connection has not been proved for sure. Dental diseases such as periodontal disease and gum problems have a link with heart disease. But as researchers search for decisive evidence of the same, physicians offer a cautious approach as the best protection and stress on developing good oral health habits.

Signs of poor gum health include red swollen gums, bleeding after flossing or brushing, receding of the gums or more teeth than gums, pus or pain on the gum and loosening of the teeth. Certain people are more prone to gum disease as against others. It is important to be alert and get any of the signs checked out.

Specific conditions associated with heart disease which affect the gums include gingivitis, periodontitis, pericoronitis, and cavities.

What are Cavities?

These are tiny holes in the teeth linked with tooth decay. These are also the result of bacteria. But this type of bacteria can also lead to other gum diseases such as gingivitis, periodontal problems that can irritate the gums and cause infections. Cavities directly or indirectly affect the gums and lead to infections. They also culminate in heart diseases, according to a significant body of research evidence.

How You Can Maintain Good Oral Health

If you want to keep cavities ( and heart diseases) at bay, here are the tips you need to consider on your way to good dental health.

Brush teeth twice a day

Brush teeth twice a day
Photo By: Michael Galpert/ CC BY

You need to brush your teeth at least twice a day. Not only is it important to check the frequency of the brushing, but it is also essential to do a thorough job. For this reason, brushing twice in a day is advisable.

Avoid Ineffective Brushing

If brushing is carried out in a wrong way, it can make gum cavities far worse. Brushing side to side too hard can cause you to miss out on plaque and suffer a gum tear. This causes more infections. The right way to brush? Make sure that you move in circular motion with your toothbrush which helps in clearing away the debris in the gap located amidst the teeth and the gum. Check to see if you are brushing and flossing well. Floss once at least in a day. A dentist or dental hygienists can teach you how to perform it properly. Always make sure you use antiseptic mouthwash and toothpaste, in case the dental expert evaluates your teeth and suggests it. This can also control the number of bacteria and plaque in the mouth.

Be Regular With You Checkups

Checkups once in six months is a must. Some people may require more frequent visits. Eating a good and balanced diet is also essential so that vitamins and nutrients can be ingested and the dental, as well as heart health, remains perfect.

Stop Using Cigarettes

According to the American Academy of Periodontology, smoking is a common link that binds gum problems and poor heart health.

Cavities and Heart Disease: Could They Be Linked?

Cavities and Heart Disease: Could They Be Linked?
Photo By: JakobT_98/ CC BY

Check your dental hygiene and health if you want a strong heart, feel some researchers. Experts, however, point to the operative word here being that it may be so. It is unclear whether gum disease is directly linked to cardiovascular problems. Some experts feel that the link between the two is because healthy people are more likely to take care of their heart and their gums as against people who neglect either.

Some experts opine that there are reasons why dental and heart health may be linked. Inflammation/swelling is a common issue in both the types of medical conditions. For example, hardening of arteries or arteriosclerosis has a massive component of swelling because the accumulation of plaque is actually a process which is linked to inflammation. When bacteria overtake the mouth, it is but some distance to the bloodstream and the heart.

Cavities and Heart Disease: Could They Be Linked?
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Dental and heart experts have reviewed close to 120 medical papers and data on heart and dental health risk. A consensus report was posted in the Journal of Cardiology in America thereafter. A review of many published studies finds that gum problems are a risk factor for coronary diseases of the artery. Analysis of the huge NHANES/National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found gum disease was associated with diseases in the blood vessels and arteries that link to the brain causing a stroke. There is a consensus showing a direct connection between heart health and dental well-being.

Bacteria found in both health problems are common. Bacterial pathogens were found in gum disease that is linked to blood vessels associated with arteriosclerosis. Inflammation is another common factor for both these diseases. People with cavities or other diseases of the gum have levels of CRP or C-reactive. This is the protein that rises during the entire inflammation of the body. This also assesses the risk of a heart attack in a person, with rising levels associated with increased risk of disease.

Another link is that people with certain heart conditions have a higher risk of endocarditis or infection of the cardiovascular system. This can be lethal to life. This happens when bacteria in the bloodstream enter the damaged heart valves or other damaged heart tissue.

If you seek to understand how gum disease can threaten heart health, understand that while the connection is not yet proved, there’s clear evidence that dental diseases like periodontal conditions and gingivitis impacting the gum and bones supporting the teeth are linked to heart disease. But there’s a lot of debate about this. To be safe rather than sorry, it is essential to adopt good oral health habits and be on a lookout for issues with the gums and teeth.

Healthy gums are light pink, firm and very elastic, according to the American Dental Association. If the description does not fit the gums in your mouth, you need to go for a checkup. These are the symptoms of gum trouble:

  • Swollen red gums
  • Bleeding post brushing or flossing
  • Receding gums and more of the tooth exposed
  • Pus on the gums
  • Pain when biting or chewing
  • Losing teeth

While some people are more prone to periodontal and gum disease genetically, you need to be careful even if cavities don’t run in your family. You also need to check out the symptoms right away. Specific heart disease-related conditions include the following:


This is an early stage gum disease that is caused when bacteria buildup occurs in the gap between the tooth and the gums. Symptoms might be milder, but there may be redness, bleeding or swelling. The only treatment needed is improved flossing and brushing habits.


This is a more advanced gum disease, where the infection has penetrated deeper. Toxins are released by the bacteria that make surrounding tissues swell and infected sections to form between the gums and the teeth. Periodontal disease causes bone damage between gums, causing the teeth to become exposed and gums to recede.


This happens when the wisdom teeth are partially pushing through the gums. This causes food or plaque to be lodged under the gum flap around the teeth. Tissues become swollen and there are pain and infection. If the disease is severe, the swelling moves to the cheeks as well as the neck.


These are tiny holes caused by tooth decay in the teeth. These exacerbate bacteria but a different sort from the ones that cause gum disease. Cavities play a role in gum disease. For a cavity that irritates gums, the result can be gingivitis or periodontitis.

Other dental and periodontal issues include missing teeth, abscesses and other problems that directly or indirectly cause infection by irritating the gums. These conditions increase the risk of developing the disease. Other medical conditions that impact the immune system or the capacity to heal, including arthritis and diabetes, raises the risk of gum diseases. Side effects of medication can also occur. Dry mouth due to excessive medication makes you prone to infection. To have a healthy mouth, you need a lot of salivae to fight bacteria.

A lot of people watch their diet and keep fit to maintain a healthy heart. But brushing and flossing teeth regularly is equally important. Tooth decay and gum diseases can increase the risk of heart diseases and strokes.

Research in Support

Experts had long ago thought there was a link between poor oral health and higher chances of heart attack. Research by Bristol University’s dental scientist, Howard Jenkinson discovered as much in 2010.

How It Works

Streptococcus bacteria was a known cause for plaque and gum diseases. Normally, this bacteria stays in your mouth but if there are bleeding gums, which is a common symptom of gum disease, the bacteria could escape into the bloodstream and help in forming blood clots. Blood clots traveling to the heart or brain can lead to cardiac arrest or stroke by blocking blood flow.

The bacterium essentially has a protein on the surface called PadA that forces platelets to clump around the blood. This causes the bacteria to be shielded from the natural immune system and antibiotics. In this way, platelets gathering together cause small blood clots. While scientists have developed drugs that can stop blood clots from forming, the best way out is to have healthy teeth and gums.

Specifically, scientists have found the bacteria invades the heart tissue to cause endocarditis. The work raises the chance of creating a screening tool to gauge the dental patient’s vulnerability to the condition. Identification of a protein that causes the Streptococcus mutans to gain a stronghold in the heart tissue was also reported by microbiologists from the University of Rochester’s medical center.

S.mutans is a bacterium known for causing cavities. The bacteria remain in the dental plaque, which comprises elaborate molecular matrix created by this bacteria. This permits the bacteria to grow and thrive in the oral cavity. There, acid is churned out which invades the teeth. Normally, this bacteria remains in the mouth. But after dental flossing or procedures, it can even enter the bloodstream. While the immune system destroys these, occasionally, they may reach the heart and colonize its tissue, especially heart valves. The bacteria leads to endocarditis or inflammation of heart valves which can have a deadly consequence. Infection by S.mutans is a leading condition cause.

The Rochester University’s Center for Oral Biology discovered a collagen binding protein, CNM gives this bacteria its ability to invade the heart tissue. In lab experiments, scientists have also found the strains with the CNM can invade heart cells, while those without CNM cannot. When the gene for the CNM in strains where normally present was knocked out, the bacteria was unable to reach the heart tissue. While this work is set to prevent the bacteria from invading the heart tissue by inventing new medicines or scientific routes, CNM alone is the biomarker of the virulent strains of S.mutans. When patients with cardiac problems reach the dentist, patients can be screened to see if they carry the protein. Dentists can treat one more aggressively with preventive antibiotics.

Till more research is done and screening or preventative tools are in place, maintaining good dental health is critical for a healthy heart. Oral health is vital for overall health. Research shows more than 80 percent of US Americans are living with gum disease which is undiagnosed. There is now evidence of specific links between heart disease and oral health. If gum disease is in an advanced or moderate stage, one is at greater risk for heart disease than healthy gums. Oral health can also provide doctors with possible indications of diseases and conditions in the heart.

Thus, oral health and heart disease are linked through the spread of bacteria from the mouth to the bloodstream. When the bacteria reach the heart, they cause inflammation and attach themselves to damaged areas. This results in infections and illnesses such as endocarditis, arteriosclerosis, and stroke.

Patients with chronic conditions like gingivitis or advanced periodontal disease have a higher risk of heart diseases exacerbated by bad dental health. The bacteria linked to gum infection in the mouth attach themselves to blood vessels through the bloodstream and raise the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Even if gum inflammation is not noticed, poor oral hygiene and elevated plaque levels can put you at risk for gum disease. Additionally, the bacteria migrate into the bloodstream and causes elevation of C-reactive protein, which then raises your chances of stroke and heart disease. The bacteria is a marker for inflammation in the blood vessels.

Another study which found links between gum disease and cardiovascular diseases was the Scottish health survey. While smaller studies have considered the link between cardiovascular disease and confirmed the periodontal disease, oral hygiene, risk of inflammation and heart disease were linked for the first time in this longitudinal study as well.

Specifically, researchers combined data from 3 surveys undertaken between 1995 and 2003 and studied 11869 individuals. Further, the survey which studied their oral habits was also linked to the database of hospital admissions and deaths. The researchers used the database to study the underlying causes of heart attacks, cardiovascular diseases, and admissions for bypass surgery. The respondents in the study were also screened for C reactive and fibrinogen proteins which are markers for inflammation.

Researchers then used established techniques to analyze the results. They found the possibility of heart disease and death in association with frequency of toothbrushing, plus the association between inflammatory markers and the maintenance of oral hygiene. Researchers found participants who reported bad oral hygiene had 70 percent greater risk of cardiovascular diseases compared to those who were brushing their teeth 2 times in a day

By modeling the association between inflammatory markers and toothbrushing, researchers found the reduced rate of brushing raised chances of markers for inflammation in the body namely C reactive protein and fibrinogen. The study also found other established risk factors for cardiovascular diseases such as diabetes and smoking. Researchers concluded that poor oral hygiene is associated with cardiovascular disease and low-grade inflammation. The cause and effect are not yet proven, though. There’s now a link between gum disease and cardiovascular disease. What remains a matter of debate is whether poor oral hygiene is the cause of cardiovascular diseases or marker for other factors like smoking.

Oral hygiene leads to inflammation. Improving oral hygiene is beneficial, irrespective of any relation to heart diseases. Taking care of the teeth is easier for improving heart health.

However, in 2012, the American Heart Association studied scientific reviews and concluded poor oral health causes heart disease and existing gum diseases reduce the risk of heart disease. Many studies have shown a link between gum disease and other grave conditions, including heart diseases. Research highlights that periodontitis is linked to increased risk of developing heart disease and those with chronic gum disease have thickened neck blood vessels. There is also scientific evidence that diabetics benefit from teeth cleanings and there is a strong correlation between diabetes and heart disease.


Thus, it is clear that there is some overlap between dental conditions and heart problems. But while the exact nature of the relationship is being explored and debated, it is clear that there is a long way to go before results are conclusive. But for those who believe prevention is better than cure, heart disease can definitely be staved off with good oral and dental hygiene.

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