Direct Link Established between Poor Oral Health and Heart Disease

Direct Link Established between Poor Oral Health and Heart Disease

By Dr. Ed Mapes
Stonebridge Animal Hospital
McKinney, Tx 75071

A report in the International Journal of Cardiology has linked people afflicted with oral health problems with a marked increase in the incidence of heart attacks. The situation is very similar to that in our animal patients; those with gum disease are far more likely to develop heart, lung, and disorders in other organs as well.
Gingivitis is a chronic inflammation and infection of the gums. It is caused by an accumulation of various bacteria that become trapped within plaque that adheres to the teeth. We see red, swollen, and sometimes bleeding gums with these infections. Periodontitis, a more severe stage in the disease, ensues when infection spreads to bone that supports the teeth.
With gingivitis and periodontitis, those oral bacteria and their toxins have direct access to nearby blood vessels, which transport the organisms to the heart, lungs, and other organs of the body. Veterinarians are not only treating the oral cavity when we recommend dental cleaning procedures; we’re looking out for the animal’s overall well-being by controlling the spread of infection to other body tissues.

Figure 1: Plaque

Figure 1: Plaque

The canine tooth in the figure is covered with calculus, which is mineralized plaque that adheres to the teeth very tightly. Note the gum swelling caused by infection.

We sometimes have to take extra precautions in our patients that have gum infections. Before performing hip replacement surgery for example; we must ensure that no oral infection exists due to the threat of infection spreading to the hip implants.

Dental cleaning is a procedure done very routinely at veterinary hospitals, and dental prophylaxis is harmless so long as pre-anesthetic blood testing eliminates any obvious systemic disorders. Intravenous fluids given during the procedure keeps the pets safe, and in many cases the fluids are very beneficial to the patient.

We also take that opportunity –while the pet is already anesthetized – to obtain dental X-rays, which help detect unseen tooth or gum problems that we can then treat in early stages. The teeth are cleaned and polished, fluoride is applied to ward off infections, and bonded sealant can be utilized on fractured or damaged teeth. Teeth that are badly infected with loosened roots can also be extracted if necessary at that time.

We also dispense a liquid that is added to the pets’ water each day that is very effective in killing bacteria most responsible for gum infections. It also smells nice and helps to control breath odors to boot!

Paying attention to our pets’ oral health pays great dividends; by stopping tooth and gum infections we keep the animals free of oral pain and also prevent diseases from spreading throughout the body.

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