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Coronary Artery Disease

You may know that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., but did you know your heart’s health is tied to your dental health? People with periodontal (gum) disease have two to three times the risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiovascular event. While research has not yet found the direct link, there are several theories that may explain the link between heart disease, stroke, and periodontal disease.

When bacteria in the mouth enters the bloodstream, inflammation (the body’s natural response to infection) occurs. This leads to a narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries). Atherosclerosis makes it difficult for blood to flow to and from your heart. This leads to heart disease and stroke.

Severe inflammation in the gum tissue is also related to elevated levels of C-reactive proteins that have been linked to heart disease.

According to the American Society for Microbiology, research has found that one specific bacterium linked to periodontitis, Streptococcus sanguis, spreads to the heart once it enters the body. This bacterium also plays a role in strokes. Additional research links the bacterium to thickening of the carotid (neck) arteries, which carry blood to the brain.

Warning signs of periodontitis

According to the American Association of Periodontology, you may have gum disease if:

  • Red, swollen, or tender gums or other pain in your mouth
  • Bleeding while brushing, flossing, or eating hard food
  • Gums that are receding or pulling away from the teeth, causing the teeth to look longer than before
  • Loose or separating teeth
  • Pus between your gums and teeth
  • Sores in your mouth
  • Persistent bad breath
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • A change in the fit of partial dentures

If you notice any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your dentist. The sooner you seek care, the better your chances of reversing any damage from periodontitis.

How to manage gum disease if you have heart disease

Good oral hygiene can prevent gum disease. Follow these steps to maintain healthy teeth and gums.

  • Practice regular dental care, which includes brushing after every meal and before bedtime and flossing at least once a day.
  • Visit your dentist twice a year for a professional cleaning. When plaque accumulates, it can mineralize, trapping stains and turning into tartar. Once tartar has formed, only your dentist or hygienist can remove it.
  • Periodontal (gum) disease can also exacerbate existing heart conditions. Some dental plan members who have heart disease may require antibiotics prior to dental procedures.

Personalized benefits at no additional cost

To help manage the condition and improve oral health, HMSA’s Oral Health for Total Health program provides enhanced dental benefits for plan members who are diagnosed with heart disease. These benefits are covered 100% with no out-of-pocket expenses when seeing a participating provider.

  • Two additional cleanings or periodontal maintenance visits per year (total of four).
  • If your plan includes periodontal coverage, periodontal scaling is covered at 100% with no out-of-pocket expense. Often referred to as a deep cleaning, periodontal scaling reaches below the gumline to remove the buildup of plaque and toxic bacteria.

Members with health and dental plans from HMSA who have a diagnosis of heart disease are enrolled automatically. Dental members who don’t have a health plan with HMSA can easily enroll online.

To use your Oral Health for Total Health benefits, simply make an appointment with your dentist. To find a dentist in your plan’s network, visit our provider directory.