Several theories exist to explain the link between periodontal disease and heart disease. Coronary artery disease is characterized by a thickening of the walls of the coronary arteries due to the buildup of fatty proteins. One theory is that oral bacteria can affect the heart when they enter the blood stream, attaching to fatty plaques in the coronary arteries (heart blood vessels) and contributing to clot formation. It has been clearly demonstrated in several research studies that a specific bacteria, found only under the gum-line of patients with periodontal disease, is also found within the fatty plaques. How did it get from the mouth to the heart? Blood clots can obstruct normal blood flow, restricting the amount of nutrients and oxygen required for the heart to function properly. This may lead to heart attacks.
Another possibility is that the inflammation caused by gum disease increases plaque build up in the heart, which may contribute to swelling of the arteries.
Periodontal disease can also worsen existing heart conditions. Patients at risk for infective endocarditis may require antibiotics prior to dental procedures. Your cardiologist will be able to determine if your heart condition requires use of antibiotics prior to dental procedures.
Additional studies have pointed to a relationship between gum disease and stroke. In one study that looked at the causal relationship of oral infection as a risk factor for stroke, people diagnosed with acute cerebrovascular ischemia were found more likely to have an oral infection when compared to those in the control group.