Why a Tooth Infection Might Hurt Your Heart

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An untreated infection in the tip, or apex, of a tooth’s root could increase risk of coronary artery disease, say Finnish researchers in the July 2016 Journal of Dental Research.

A dental root tip infection, called apical periodontitis, is accompanied by inflammation and most often caused by tooth decay. Dentists typically clear the infection with root canal treatment.

The researchers suspected that the inflammation in the root tip might play a role in the development of coronary artery disease—which is also caused by inflammation and leads to blocked arteries.

They studied 508 patients (average age 62) who had undergone coronary angiography. Of those patients, 169 were diagnosed with acute coronary syndrome, such as a heart attack or unstable angina; 184 had stable coronary artery disease; and 123 had no significant coronary artery disease.

Oral exams revealed that nearly 58 percent of the patients had signs of apical periodontitis. Most infections occurred in coronary artery disease patients. The strongest association was in patients who had untreated infections in need of root canal—they were 2.7 times more likely to have acute coronary syndrome than patients with no infection.

Those findings add to past research associating heart disease with low-grade inflammation from gum disease and other dental conditions. It’s important to note that this latest study and earlier studies show no direct evidence proving that dental inflammation causes heart disease or that treatment of a root tip infection will reduce cardiovascular disease risk.

That said, good oral health is still an important component of general overall health. Apical periodontitis is often asymptomatic in its early stages, so it’s essential to get regular dental checkups to prevent infection from occurring.

In addition, heed these tips from the American Dental Association to keep your teeth and gums healthy:

Brush your teeth twice a day and floss once a day.

Eat balanced meals and limit snacks.

See your dentist if you have gums that bleed or are swollen, red, tender, or pulling away from your teeth; chronic bad breath; loose or separating teeth; a change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite; or a change in the fit of partial dentures.

Learn more about other conditions that can be bad news for the heart, including sleep apnea and psoriasis.