Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.See all posts »
Your Dentist and Your Heart Health
High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects 50 million American adults, but one in three has no idea that their blood pressure is high. Blood pressure is typically checked at the doctor’s office, but over the past 10 years, the American Dental Association has recognized the vital role that dentists can also play in diagnosing hypertension and referring their patients for treatment.
It is estimated that about two of every three of us visit our dentists at least yearly. Most dentists now include a simple measure of blood pressure as part of their regular examinations. Since hypertension is a major contributor to heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure, early detection and treatment can make an enormous difference.
Less well recognized is the link between periodontal disease, or inflammation of the gum tissue, and heart disease. This condition is associated with a 70 percent greater risk for heart disease, as well as a higher risk for stroke, but is usually easily preventable by careful attention to oral hygiene. Severe cases may require surgery, so it’s best to avoid periodontal disease by brushing for two minutes twice daily. An ultrasonic tooth brush (such as this one from Philips) is an investment, but can make an enormous difference in your oral health.
Dentists are also skilled in diagnosing and treating oral abscesses. While the infections are usually limited to the mouth, in rare cases, the infection can spread to the heart valves, causing a condition known as endocarditis. People with damaged, artificial, or congenitally abnormal valves are most vulnerable. Preventing endocarditis is one very important reason that early treatment of any dental infection is critical.
Most people should visit a dentist twice a year for cleaning and maintenance of good oral health. While it’s not usually much fun, dentists are well aware that many of us are a little apprehensive, and have done a great deal to make the visits easier, less stressful, and more comfortable than in years past.
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