What do your teeth have to do with your heart? Many people think of their oral health as somewhat separate from their overall well-being. It might not seem possible that something as simple as keeping your teeth clean could have any real impact on your circulation or other vital bodily functions. However, your teeth are not an isolated part of your body – they actually affect many aspects of your general health. At Dr. Craig Armstrong’s Houston dental practice, we’re committed to helping our patients enjoy not only beautiful smiles but healthy bodies overall. In the following blog, we explain how blood pressure can affect your dental health (and vice versa).
Blood Pressure Basics
Before we begin to address the relationship between blood pressure and dental health, we first need to explain what the former actually is. You’ve probably had a doctor measure your blood pressure (using the device that goes around your arm), but you might not know what this diagnostic test actually evaluates.
According to the British charity Blood Pressure UK, “when your heart beats, it pumps blood [through] your body to give it the energy and oxygen it needs. As the blood moves, it pushes against the sides of the blood vessels [the tube-shaped structures that transport blood around your body, such as veins]. The strength of this pushing is your blood pressure.” Essentially, this is the force with which your blood flows through your veins.
Low blood pressure, or hypotension, while not always a problem, “can cause dizziness and fainting” or even “be life-threatening” in “severe cases,” as per Mayo Clinic. The more common blood pressure issue is hypertension, or high blood pressure. When improperly managed, “high blood pressure raises the risk for heart disease and stroke, which are leading causes of death in the United States,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC also points out that approximately 30 percent of Americans have high blood pressure. Less than half of that 30 percent are able to keep their high blood pressure under control with medication, diet, and exercise. Blood pressure has been nicknamed the “silent killer” because it’s possible to have high blood pressure and no symptoms at all.
Blood Pressure and Dental Procedures
When you come in for a visit, Dr. Armstrong will ask you specific questions about your overall health. It’s important that you answer these honestly and comprehensively, since we will use this information to design the best possible customized treatment plan for you.
If you have high blood pressure, it’s important to let us know about this condition, even if you’re managing it with medication, lifestyle changes, or other techniques. Dr. Armstrong needs to know about your condition so we can properly monitor you. Chances are, if your blood pressure is effectively controlled and you’re suffering from no other related medical conditions, this will not affect your treatment.
However, there may be certain cases in which Dr. Armstrong cannot perform certain procedures (such as dental crown placements and fillings or other restorative treatments) because your blood pressure is too high. After you inform us that your doctor has diagnosed you with high blood pressure, we may take your blood pressure several times to establish a baseline. We do so because some treatments and medications can raise your heart rate significantly. For someone with normal or low blood pressure, this is typically safe, but it may become dangerous for patients with hypertension. Once Dr. Armstrong has a baseline, he’ll be able to tell if your treatment is negatively affecting your blood pressure in any way and make necessary adjustments.
Your blood pressure may also affect how we numb your teeth and gums for procedures. Local anesthetics contain epinephrine, a drug known for causing a rapid rise in heart rate, can be hazardous if you have hypertension. In fact, epinephrine can even raise your risk for having a heart attack. Fortunately, most people with high blood pressure can receive local anesthesia as long as it does not contain epinephrine. However, Dr. Armstrong needs to collect as much medical information as possible in order to make a safe decision.
Ideally, your blood pressure is below 120/80, the normal reading according to the American Heart Association. A slight elevation typically won’t cause dental issues.
How Hypertension Medications May Affect Your Mouth
The drugs often prescribed to help lower high blood pressure can also have a detrimental effect on your oral health. For example, medications like calcium channel blockers can cause gingival hyperplasia, or gum overgrowth. In addition to being uncomfortable, this can increase your risk for gum disease and other gingival problems. If you struggle with gum overgrowth, we recommend you pay extra attention to your dental hygiene. Dr Armstrong can show you how to brush properly and will likely advise that you come in more frequently for cleanings. In some rare severe cases, we may recommend gum surgery to remove excess tissue.
Other hypertension medications may change your sense of taste and lead to xerostomia, or dry mouth. Xerostomia is a serious oral health issue because, while you may not realize it, your saliva is actually an important defender against decay. It serves as a sort of natural mouthwash, rinsing particulate off of your teeth and gums. Your spit also includes cavity-fighting enzymes. If your hypertension medication affects saliva production, you must be particularly vigilant about brushing and flossing to prevent decay.
Your Oral Health and Blood Pressure
We’ve talked above about how your blood pressure can influence your oral health, but the reverse can also occur. For example, sometimes blood pressure can become elevated due to an oral infection, especially if the condition is painful. Removing the infected tissue, such as the pulp of an infected tooth or an abscess, will typically bring your blood pressure back down into the normal range. When you have an oral infection and increased blood pressure, Dr. Armstrong will determine the appropriate course of treatment based on your individual medical and dental factors.
Suffering from gum disease also appears to notably influence your blood pressure, especially since this condition is also a form of infection. According to a piece by Delta Dental of Washington, “if you have gum disease, you’re at increased risk for having potentially harmful bacteria enter your bloodstream through infected gum tissue. Researchers believe this helps contribute to plaque buildup in arteries, leading to increased blood pressure.” The article points out, “this doesn’t mean gum disease causes high blood pressure. It’s simply considered a risk factor for it.”
This conclusion is based on “a 2010 study,” which “found that oral hygiene may be considered an independent risk factor for hypertension and that maintaining healthy gums may prevent and control the condition.” As the scientists who published this study in the Journal of Hypertension puts it, “our data provide evidence of a direct relationship between the levels of subgingival [under the gums] periodontal bacteria and…blood pressure as well as hypertension prevalence.” Based on these findings, it is especially important to take care of your mouth if you already have or are at increased risk for hypertension. Even if you have no family history of high blood pressure, it makes sense to maintain excellent gingival hygiene to protect your heart and your mouth. Dr. Armstrong and our team would be delighted to help you do so.
Furthermore, WebMD recently reported on a study in which “researchers reviewed medical and dental records of more than 3,600 people diagnosed with high blood pressure.” They found that “compared to people with good oral health, those with gum disease were less likely to respond to high blood pressure medications and 20 percent less likely to achieve healthy blood pressure targets.” Commenting on the study, an Italian dental surgeon noted: “‘patients with high blood pressure and the clinicians who care for them should be aware that good oral health may be just as important in controlling the condition as are several lifestyle interventions known to help control blood pressure, such as a low-salt diet, regular exercise and weight control.” In this way, simply brushing and flossing your teeth could serve as important hypertension management techniques.
This further underlines the close connection between dental and general well-being – according to WebMD, the Italian dental surgeon calls “oral health… ‘indispensable’ to overall health.” Taking care of your teeth and gums truly contributes to the function of your entire body.
Improving Your Dental and Heart Health
Chances are, you want to enjoy both a healthy smile and normal blood pressure. Fortunately, you can improve your chances of achieving both these goals by:
Brushing your teeth at least twice a day, as the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends.
Flossing at least once per day. Flossing is the only way to remove plaque and debris from between the teeth and under the gums. Doing so reduces your risk of gum disease.
Coming in at least twice per year for professional cleanings and examinations. These appointments allow our team to scrub plaque off your teeth and Dr. Armstrong to evaluate your mouth for any symptoms of oral disorders.
If you are at risk for hypertension, already suffer from it, or simply want to keep your blood pressure in the normal range, Dr. Armstrong strongly advises that you do the above. Taking these relatively simple yet proactive steps can help you stay fit.
Our Houston Dental Practice Can Help
Dr. Armstrong and our team can help you keep your teeth clean and your blood pressure low. Contact us today to learn more and schedule an appointment!