As we have covered many times in the McKinney Smiles blog, our oral health matters to more than just our teeth and gums.
Over the last couple of decades, more and more research has emerged that shows surprising connections between our oral health and chronic problems that can affect everything from our heart, brain, and joints.
Continuing on with this trend in new research, more evidence now points to the connection that gum disease can increase our risk for hypertension (high blood pressure). A new review of existing literature now argues that the more severe form of gum disease, the higher a patient’s risk for hypertension becomes.
Up to 47 percent of adults in the U.S. 30 and older have developed some form of gum disease, and roughly 32 percent of all adults in the U.S. have hypertension, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While these two conditions may seem independent of each other, recent studies have found an intriguing connection that may help to explain the link between hypertension and gum disease.
Hypertension and Gum Disease
Delving into this connection, researchers from the University College London Eastman Dental Institute conducted a literature review on the topic that has confirmed, based on the available evidence, that patients dealing with periodontitis – a severe form of gum disease – do have a higher risk for developing hypertension.
Additionally, the more severe a patient’s case of periodontitis, the higher their risk for hypertension becomes.
“Hypertension could be the driver of heart attack and stroke in patients with periodontitis,” warns the research team in writing about their review.
Previous research suggests a connection between periodontitis and hypertension and that dental treatment might improve blood pressure. However, those finding are too inconclusive to definitively say that treating gum disease can help to lower blood pressure.
As part of their study, researchers examined the evidence collected in 81 studies that were conducted in 26 different countries worldwide. The research showed that the average arterial blood pressure tends to be significantly higher in patients dealing with periodontitis.
Specifically, systolic blood pressure (the pressure that occurs during a heartbeat) and diastolic blood pressure (the pressure that occurs between heartbeats) were 4.5 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and 2 mm Hg higher, respectively, among individuals with gum disease when compared to those without.
While this difference may seem insignificant, an average of just 5 mm Hg pressure increased would lead to a 25 percent higher risk of death from a stroke or heart attack.
Furthermore, researchers were able to identify a connection between moderate-to-severe periodontitis and a 22 percent higher risk for hypertension. Conversely, severe periodontitis was linked to a 49 percent increased risk of hypertension.
“The findings suggest that patients with gum disease should be informed of their risk and given advice on lifestyle changes to prevent high blood pressure, such as exercise and a healthy diet,” wrote the research team.
Is Gum Disease Treatment the Answer?
The research team also wanted to determine whether any of the available evidence could support the notion that treating gum disease could effectively help to lower a patient’s blood pressure.
Unfortunately, the evidence on this topic remain inconclusive. Only five of the 12 studies examined by the research team that looked at this connection found that gum disease treatment could actually lower a patient’s blood pressure.
Even if researchers cannot scientifically point to gum disease treatment as a means of lowering blood pressure, maintaining a health mouth can only help to improve a patient’s risk for hypertension.
Daily brushing and flossing, along with scheduling regular exams with Dr. Lawrence and our team McKinney Smiles, can provide the foundation needed to enjoy a healthy smile.
If a patient doesn’t need to worry about developing gum disease, they can safely assume their risk for hypertension will also become lower.