Isn’t it interesting
that both the buildup on teeth and the buildup in arteries is called “plaque”?
For years, few people considered this anything but mere coincidence. Because
the organisms in plaque are difficult to culture (they thrive in the absence of
oxygen), even if someone had made such a connection, it would have been hard to
prove. With the advent of DNA sequencing, it suddenly became easy to show that
some of the organisms found in the plaque in arteries do in fact originate in
The idea that
disease in one part of the body could cause illness in another part was a major
paradigm shift in the conventional dental community. Yet, holistic dentists had
long known about this phenomenon and referred to it as the “focal infection”
theory of disease.
profession that had mocked holistic dentists for embracing this philosophy found
itself rethinking its position. As more research is being done, a strong
correlation between gum disease and cardiovascular disease (and other diseases,
such as diabetes) is starting to emerge.
There are two main
pathways by which this appears to happen. The first is mechanical in nature.
When gums bleed, bacteria are introduced into the blood stream and adhere to
the walls of blood vessels. Imagine throwing a rock into a smooth-running
stream. The resulting turbulence allows artery-clogging substances to be more
easily deposited. Studies show that the bacteria found in periodontal disease,
such as Streptococcus sanguinis, can spread to the
heart and are known to play a role in strokes. In the absence of gum disease
, significantly fewer of these
bacteria are present.
The second process is inflammatory in
nature. Bacteria in the blood stream also trigger a general inflammatory
response, which leads to the thickening and hardening of the arteries. This
condition, known as atherosclerosis, reduces blood flow to the heart and brain,
leading to an increased risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Considering the prevalence of gum
disease in this country, this problem could affect a lot of people. According
to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of
Americans age 30 and older and 70 percent of those 65 and older have some
degree of gum disease.
Bleeding gums are the easiest way to
tell if you may have periodontal disease and should never be considered “normal.”
If you notice this to be a persistent problem, it is definitely time for a trip
to the dentist—the health of your teeth and your heart depend on it!
Dr. Ingo Mahn is a 1985 graduate of Marquette
University School of Dentistry. He is an accredited member of the IAOMT
(International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology) and earned a doctorate
in integrative medicine from Capital University, in Georgetown, in 2004. He is
the founder of Natural Dental Partners, a high-tech, health-centered practice
in North Phoenix. For a free copy of his book, Your Mouth, the Missing Link to Optimal Health, call 602-775-5120 or
visit MyNaturalDentist.com to learn