Have a Heart-to-Heart Talk With Your Dentist

If you have heart disease or high blood pressure and are taking medication for the condition, your dentist needs to know.

When it comes to overall health, your mouth doesn’t stand alone — its condition can affect the rest of the body, including the heart. Researchers and clinicians have concluded that a link exists between gum disease — also known as periodontal disease — and heart disease, although its nature remains somewhat cloudy.

“Lots of bacteria reside in the mouth,” says Hoyt Frenzel, M.D., F.A.C.E.P. F.A.A.E.M., medical director of Emergency Services and emergency medicine physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital. “Individuals who have diabetes, cancer, lupus or some form of immunosuppression are at risk for increased bacteria in the mouth.

“When we brush our teeth or have a dental procedure, bacteria can feed into the bloodstream,” Dr. Frenzel continues. “Normally, the spleen clears these bacteria so they don’t cause systemic infections. In individuals with weakened immune systems, however, the bacteria can circulate and lodge in certain places, including the heart. If an individual has a heart valve abnormality or has had heart surgery in the past, these bacteria can cause infections of the valves, grafts or abnormal structures. They can even result in a serious infection in the heart’s lining called endocarditis.”

Speak Up

If your dentist is unfamiliar with your medical history, particularly your cardiac history, be sure to share this information with him or her at your next appointment. Doing so can help keep you safe while you’re in the exam chair. If you have high blood pressure, for example, receiving anesthesia that contains epinephrine could worsen the condition or put you at risk for a heart attack. Taking a blood thinner to reduce heart attack or stroke risk can make you vulnerable to excessive bleeding during oral surgery.

If your dentist knows your health history, he or she can work with your primary care physician or cardiologist to reduce your risk of infection prior to an oral procedure.

“If vulnerable patients, such as those with known congenital heart disease, receive antibiotics before a high-risk dental procedure, the literature agrees that this nearly eliminates their risk of contracting endocarditis or exacerbating heart disease from the procedure,” Dr. Frenzel says. “This is why a good discussion with your dentist and physician before any oral procedure is critical.”

Need to get up to date on the health of your heart? Click here to find a Texas Health primary care physician or cardiologist who can help.

Physicians on the medical staff practice independently and are not employees or agents of the hospital or Texas Health Resources.

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