A tooth is an organ like the kidneys, heart, and brain. Each tooth has its own unique function – not only in biting and chewing food but also in preventing facial soft tissue deformities.
A tooth as an independent unit is nothing. Each tooth is an integral part of bone and soft tissue – continuously interacting with the surrounding tissues at different levels.
Just as the pericardium (pericardial sac) separates the heart from the surrounding organs, the gingiva (together with the bone tissue and thin periodontal fibers) separates the tooth from the surrounding organs – tongue, lips, and cheeks.
Any system (for example, the cardiovascular system) works synchronously and smoothly when it is intact and unharmed. The same can be said about the dental system: the teeth, interacting with the surrounding bone and gum structure, support the balance in the work of all systems of the whole body.
According to cardiologist Dr. Ilham Kaffa, full-fledged oral care helps to avoid many problems. One of them is heart valve damage. Lack of hygiene, gum disease, dental caries, and its complications increase the risk of bacterial infection.
Dr. Kaffa, proper care, and timely oral hygiene will help to avoid many diseases. Heart and teeth – is there a connection?
If a person treats the condition of the mouth cavity lightly, considers it something insignificant, and doesn’t visit the doctor for a long time, it may lead to serious diseases, which will remain for life. The relationship is more obvious than it may seem at first glance.
When there is a spot of inflammation, in an affected tooth or gum, sores, for example, then bacteria multiply in these places. Normally, everyone has them and due to their protective functions, there is a balance. However, if the affected area is not treated, the body begins to spend a lot of energy fighting and becomes depleted. Bacteria get into the blood and there is a danger of them entering the heart. The most common pathology is infectious endocarditis when the structure of the valves is destroyed.
Is the heart so fragile?
Normally, the heart is well protected from the entry of bacteria. They can only enter through the blood and the flow has to be high for pathogens to gain a foothold there. With multiple cavities, there is usually a decrease in immunity, which leads to the entry of germs into the bloodstream. This is where the heart becomes a target for infection.
How long will it take from the time the infection enters the heart to the onset of symptoms?
If the infection develops on a heart valve, it can destroy it in as little as two weeks.
What symptoms are we talking about?
Shortness of breath and fatigue, swelling of the legs, and the appearance of fever (37 to 38 degrees) a week or two after the infection. The symptoms described above indicate that the heart may not be working at its full potential. This is a reason to see a doctor.
Can you give an example?
Everything in the human body is interconnected. Inflamed carious tooth in the background of a weakened immune system can become a trigger. One day a young man, 36 years old, was admitted to the clinic with heart failure. Before admission to the hospital, the man was engaged in sports, led an active lifestyle, worked, and had no health problems. Before admission to the hospital, he had noted a mild fever for several days. Echocardiography, in other words, cardiac ultrasound, showed the presence of vegetations, and bacterial lumps, on the heart valves. The aortic valve, which lets blood into the great circulation was half destroyed. The patient was hospitalized.
Was the cause of the infection determined?
According to the man, he had received dental prosthetics shortly before his admission to the hospital. Perhaps his body hadn’t fully recovered and was prone to infection, perhaps the patient didn’t take a complete course of antibiotics. But we didn’t find any other objective causes of endocarditis.
What is the treatment?
Infectious endocarditis requires powerful and prolonged antibiotic therapy – it is difficult to eliminate bacteria from the blood. With severe infectious lesions of the heart valve apparatus, the only way out is the implantation of an artificial prosthesis to replace the damaged own and lifelong use of drugs that reduce blood clotting.
Who is at risk?
Infectious lesions of the heart occur in exactly the same way in men and women. People with weakened immune systems or autoimmune diseases are in the risk zone.
Dr. Kaffa, what would you wish our readers?
It is necessary to be attentive to their health at any age and understand that in our bodies there are no small things. It is necessary to take care of yourself – have regular preventive examinations, lead an active lifestyle, eat healthy food, and do not smoke.
Dr. Ilham Kaffa is a cardiologist in Athens.