How does poor oral health affect the heart’s chambers and valves?
Dental and oral health is essential to a person’s health and well-being. Poor oral hygiene may result in bacteria in the mouth that may trigger a life-threatening inflammation of the inner lining of the heart’s chambers and valves.
The bacteria cause the gums to become inflamed (red and swollen) and often bleed during tooth brushing, flossing, or specific dental procedures involving manipulation of the gums. When gums bleed, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream and infect other body parts. The bacteria can result in Endocarditis, which affects the heart’s inner lining and its valves’ surfaces.
Who is at risk of Endocarditis?
Many different things can cause germs to get into the bloodstream and lead to Endocarditis. Having a faulty, diseased, or damaged heart valve increases the risk of the condition. However, Endocarditis may occur in those without heart valve problems.
- Older age. Endocarditis occurs most often in adults over age 60.
- Artificial heart valves. Germs are more likely to attach to an artificial (prosthetic) heart valve than a regular one.
- Damaged heart valves. Certain medical conditions, such as rheumatic fever or infection, can damage or scar one or more heart valves, increasing the risk of infection.
- Congenital heart defects. Being born with certain heart defects, such as an irregular heart or damaged heart valves, raises the risk.
- Implanted heart device. Bacteria can attach to an implanted device, such as a pacemaker, causing an infection of the heart’s lining.
- Illegal intravenous (IV) drug use. Using dirty needles can lead to infections such as Endocarditis. Contaminated needles and syringes are a concern for people who use illegal drugs, such as heroin or cocaine.
- Poor dental health. A healthy mouth and healthy gums are essential for good health because bacteria can grow inside the mouth and may enter the bloodstream through a cut in the gums.
- Long-term catheter use. Having a catheter in place for an extended period (indwelling catheter) increases the risk of Endocarditis.
However, symptoms of Endocarditis can vary from person to person. Endocarditis may develop slowly or suddenly. It depends on the type of germs causing the infection and whether there are other heart problems.
What Are the Symptoms of Endocarditis?
- Unexplained fever
- Night chills
- Weakness, muscle pain, or joint pain
- Sluggishness (lethargy) or malaise (general ill feeling).
- Chest pain when you breathe.
- Night sweats
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling in the feet, legs, or belly.
- A new or changed whooshing sound in the heart (murmur).
If you’re at increased risk of developing Endocarditis, practicing good oral and dental hygiene is essential, and regular visits to dentists may lower the risk of Endocarditis.
How to lower the risk of Endocarditis?
- Tell your dentist if your health has changed since your last visit. Be sure to let your dentist know if you’ve had heart or vascular surgery within the past six months. Also, report if you have been diagnosed with other heart conditions.
- Make sure your dentist has a complete list of the names and dosages of your medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
- Ensure your dentist has all your doctors’ names and phone numbers. Your dentist may want to consult your doctor about your dental care plan and medication choices.
- Practice good oral hygiene. Brush your teeth at least twice a day; floss at least once daily; rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash at least once daily. Good oral and dental health is essential for patients at risk for Endocarditis.
Consult an Intercare dentist if you develop any symptoms of infection, especially a fever that won’t go away, unexplained fatigue, skin infection, or open cuts or sores that don’t heal properly.