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More than three out of four adults are living with some form of gum disease. Often this disease goes undiagnosed. This may be because the patient feels fine, avoids the dentist, and medical doctors rarely discuss oral health issues with patients.

There are now two specific links between oral health and heart disease. First, studies have concluded that patients with moderate or advanced stages of gum disease are at greater risk for heart disease than someone with healthy gums. Second, your oral health can indicate warning signs for a myriad of diseases, including cardiovascular disease.

Heart disease and oral health are connected by the spread of bacteria, specifically bacteria from your mouth to other parts of the body via the bloodstream. When these bacteria reach the heart, they attach to the damaged areas and cause inflammation. This can result in infection of the heart lining known as endocarditis.

According to the American Heart Association, other types of cardiovascular conditions like clogged arteries and stroke have also been linked to inflammation caused by these bacteria. Those at highest risk for heart disease caused by poor oral health are patients with gingivitis or advanced periodontal disease, particularly if it is undiagnosed or unmanaged.

Inadequate oral hygiene and plaque buildup put you at risk for gum disease. The bacteria can also migrate into the bloodstream and cause an elevated C-reactive protein. This is a marker for inflammation in the blood vessels. C-reactive protein can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke.

Warning signs include red and swollen gums, bleeding when brushing and flossing, pus or other signs of infections around the teeth or gums, appearance of the gums “pulling away” from the teeth, or the feeling that the teeth are loose. The best preventive measures are good oral hygiene and regular dental examinations.