How Oral Infections Can Affect the Heart

There are a multitude of beneficial microorganisms in the mouth, but if we don't follow a proper dental hygiene routine, oral infections can appear. What's more, oral infections can affect the heart through the oral-cardiac pathway. Learn more in this article.
How Oral Infections Can Affect the Heart

Last update: 06 September, 2021

Although at first it may seem that there’s no relationship between the mouth and the heart, there’s a direct connection between them through blood circulation. That’s why we know that oral infections can affect the heart and cause cardiovascular problems.

This is a warning for the general population, but especially for patients with a history of cardiac events. These individuals are at greater risk, and oral hygiene is part of prevention relapses.

Oral health and heart health go hand in hand

The mouth is home to an enormous diversity of microorganisms that make up the oral microbiota, such as the viridans group of streptococci. In it, bacteria are responsible for protecting this cavity from invasion by other microbes, and even help to maintain the health and integrity of our teeth.

However, if we neglect its cleanliness, we alter this microbiota, and infections by pathogenic agents arise. Therefore, diseases such as gingivitis or periodontitis appear.

For years, we’ve seen how people suffering from infections in the mouth ended up suffering from systemic illnesses or heart problems. This is because the mouth is bathed by a network of blood vessels that communicate with the heart. Therefore, there’s no denying that oral infections affect the heart.

Factors leading to oral dysbiosis

Woman with toothbrush
Taking care of oral hygiene is part of cardiac prevention.

A change in the number and microbial composition of the oral flora alters its balance, leading to dysbiosis. The commensal microorganisms of the oral flora aren’t pathogenic. Rather, they contribute to the correct functionality of the oral cavity, as well as to the development of the immune system.

Therefore, the imbalance of this microbiota leads to the appearance of infections, such as cavities or gingivitis. The persistence of chronicity, in the worst of cases, leads to periodontitis.

Although some of them are unavoidable, it’s very important to know the possible causes of oral dysbiosis:

  • Lack of hygiene
  • Diets high in sugars
  • The abuse of antibiotics
  • Diabetes
  • Alcohol and tobacco consumption
  • Genetic susceptibility

Cardiovascular diseases that oral infections can cause

Periodontitis or gum disease is a disease that affects people all over the world. It’s caused by infections of the gums that are not treated properly and in time, and can reach the bone of the teeth.

A study published in the journal Clinical Microbiology and Infection on oral infections and systemic diseases provides information on the risk of those suffering from severe chronic periodontitis. According to the study, they’re more susceptible to cardiovascular pathologies such as atherosclerosis or myocardial infarction.

Infective endocarditis is another example of a disease caused by poor hygiene or an invasive procedure. Endocarditis is caused by an infection of the lining of the inner part of the heart. And the microorganisms that cause this disease travel through the bloodstream from other parts of the body, such as the mouth.

As we’ve said, most of the microbes that colonize the oral cavity are streptococci of the viridans group. Therefore, one of the origins of infectious endocarditis is bacteremia that originates during brushing or a dental process.

The prevention of oral infections

Diseases associated with oral infections are one of the main public health problems, as indicated by the World Health Organization. Therefore, it’s essential to control the above-mentioned risk factors, which contribute to the appearance of infections and oral dysbiosis.

Furthermore, the correct use of antibiotics reduces the likelihood of bacteremia that causes infective endocarditis. In fact, patients included in the group that’s at risk of suffering this disease should follow a course of antibiotic prophylaxis before undergoing a dental procedure.

Among the various measures we can recommend for maintaining the health of your mouth, good hygiene is fundamental and, undoubtedly, the most effective.

The same is true when it comes to going to the dentist regularly and having your teeth cleaned. So, if you’re a person with a high probability of getting cavities or gingivitis, visits should be more frequent.

A woman getting her teeth cleaned at the dentist.
Dental visits are part of the plan to protect against oral cavity infections.

Oral infections can affect the heart

As you can see, there’s a close relationship between the mouth and the heart. In the oral cavity, there can be diseases ranging from mild infections, such as cavities, to more serious ones, such as periodontitis.

This is due to the large number of microorganisms that colonize the surfaces of the mouth. And although most of them are beneficial, we must always keep control of the bacterial population to prevent problems. This way, we’ll be able to prevent heart disease.

Finally, let’s remember that not everyone’s aware of the oral-cardiac relationship that we’ve discussed here, so making the population aware of the degree to which oral infections can affect the heart should also be part of a plan that promotes good oral hygiene practices.

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