Gum Disease and Heart Disease: What’s The Link?

Gum disease and heart disease. How does gum disease cause cardiac issues?

Gum disease and heart diseases such as heart attacks, coronary artery disease, and atherosclerosis are common diseases. A correlation exists between the two diseases.

It has been shown that periodontitis, an advanced form of gum disease, can, in some situations increase your risk of developing heart disease. This is because oral bacteria can cause damage at sites distant to the mouth and the body’s inflammatory response to the bacteria. 

Before you start to panic. There’s good news. You can cure gum disease at home and reduce any risk it poses.

This post takes a closer look at the link between gum disease and heart disease. 

What Is Heart Disease?

Heart or cardiac diseases refer to a range of conditions that affect the structure and function of the heart, which can lead to serious heart problems such as heart attacks, heart failure, arrhythmias, and many more.

Heart disease happens when the heart’s blood supply is blocked or interrupted by a build-up of fatty substances in the arteries. The fatty substance is called atheroma, it builds up slowly over time in a process called atherosclerosis. 

Atherosclerosis can be caused by lifestyle factors, such as smoking and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol regularly.

You can find out more about heart disease here.

Can Gum Disease Cause Heart Disease?

Studies have shown that a correlation exists between the two diseases, but a correlation does not mean that gum disease causes cardiac disease. The exact link is difficult to determine because there are many confounding factors, risk factors that increase your risk of developing both diseases. 

Gum Disease Increases Your Risk Of Heart Diseases

Studies have shown that gum disease increases the risk of developing cardiac disease, but not all people with gum disease develop cardiac disease and not all people with cardiac disease have gum disease. 

Confusing isn’t it!?!

This makes it hard for scientists to prove that periodontal diseases cause heart disease but they think they know what the link between gum disease and heart disease is. It also make’s it hard for them to prove that other aspects of someone’s medical health is affecting their gums.

Oral bacteria Causes Inflammation

Oral bacteria cause inflammation in the oral cavity, leading to gingivitis and periodontitis. However, the immune response is not contained in the mouth the inflammatory cells can travel around the body, causing damage elsewhere.

Oral Bacteria Damage Heart Valves

The heart contains four valves that help control blood flow through the heart, namely the mitral, tricuspid, aortic, and pulmonic valves. These valves can become damaged or infected, leading to serious heart problems. It is known that those with mechanical heart valves or valve disease are at risk of infective endocarditis (IE) caused by oral bacteria. 

The link between the two diseases is thought to be due to a number of causes. It’s thought that oral bacteria lead to atherosclerosis – which as we mentioned above is where your arteries become narrowed, making it difficult for blood to flow through them. This can result in myocardial infarction (heart attacks), stroke, coronary artery disease, endocarditis and other types of cardiovascular disease. 

Oral Bacteria Initiate Inflammation

Micro levels of inflammation are known to increase your risk of cardiac diseases and periodontitis, an advanced form of gum disease is known to cause inflammation. 

When you have gum disease the body launches an attack – it sends white blood cells and chemicals that result in redness and swelling of the gums to kill the bacteria. These white blood cells and inflammatory chemicals can travel throughout the body and can have an effect all over the body. They don’t just stay within the gums. 

It’s not known exactly how inflammation causes heart diseases, scientists are still working this out but they think inflammation aids the process of atherosclerosis.

Oral Bacteria Damages The Heart

Bacteria can enter blood vessels through periodontal pockets and small ulcers which develop in periodontitis. It is thought once in the blood vessels the oral bacteria can travel through the body to distant sites, like the arteries and valves in the heart. Here it triggers an immune response, which causes the formation of arterial plaque within the arteries and valves. 

Oral Bacteria Causes Platelet Aggregation & Atherosclerosis

Platelets are small cells which help the blood clot and prevent bleeding. It’s also believed that platelets have a role in the immune response. It is considered that the oral bacteria may activate platelets either by secreting products or binding the platelets directly. Once activated the platelets cause localized thrombus formation (blood clots) and they secrete products which activate more platelets which lead to the formation of atherosclerosis.  

What Are The Common Risk Factors

Above we found commented on how hard it was for scientists to prove that gum diseases cause heart diseases. One of the main reasons it’s difficult to study the effect of gum disease on heart disease is that there are many risk factors which increase your risk of inflammation and both diseases. Factors that increase your risk of gum disease and heart disease include

  • Smoking
  • Unhealthy diet – high levels of sugar
  • High-stress levels
  • Genetics – genes may make you more susceptible to heart disease and /or gum disease

People that lead an unhealthy lifestyle may also have

  • Higher levels of cholesterol which are a risk factor for heart disease
  • Poor oral health and therefore have higher levels of oral bacteria entering the circulation. 
  • Poor access health and dental care

You Prevent Gum Disease and Thus Reduce The Risk Of Heart Disease Caused By Periodontitis

The good news is that gum disease can be prevented and controlled by practising self-care at home. This involves cleaning the teeth for 2 minutes twice a day. As you can’t clean between the teeth easily with a toothbrush it’s also recommended that you use a single tufted toothbrush or interdental brushes to remove plaque and food debris from the spaces between the teeth.

Those with periodontal pockets, the gaps that form between the teeth and gums when you have gum diseases may benefit from the revolutionary gum pocket brush. This brush developed by the expert dentist behind the Gum Disease Guide can help you clean bacteria from these pockets and heal the gums.

You can also control or prevent the development of gum disease by eating a healthy diet – reducing your intake of sugary foods and drinks and avoiding nicotine by stopping smoking. 

Taking regular exercise, controling diabetes, reducing stress and getting 8 hours of sleep a night can also help reduce your risk of gum disease and cardiac diseases. 

Beat Gum Disease Now

How Do I Know If I Have Gum Disease?

You can tell you have gum disease by looking in the mirror at your gums and seeing if they are inflamed. If they are red, swollen and bleed when your brush it’s a sure sign you have gum disease. You may also have gaps between the gums and the teeth, bad breath, loose wobbly teeth and gum recession.

Heart Diseases and Dental Treatment

Unlike diabetes, cardiac diseases do not have an effect on your oral health but you should tell your dentist if you have heart disease or are taking anticoagulants such as warfarin. This is for two reasons. 

1) you may be taking medicines that can have an effect on your oral health or put you at increased risk during some dental procedures. 

2) Oral bacteria can cause endocarditis, a rare bacterial infection of the heart valves which has a high mortality rate. In some cases extra precautions may need to be taken if you have a dental scaling.

Can Gum Disease Cause Other Diseases?

There is a strong link between gum disease and other diseases such as diabetes and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Pneumonia, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and others. Find out more in our post on “what diseases gum disease can cause”. 

The Gum Disease Guide Can Help You Treat Gum Diseases 

Your best defence against gum diseases and therefore any increased risk of heart disease caused by periodontitis is good self-care. Gum Disease: Solved teaches you how to beat gum disease in less than 10 minutes per day from the comfort of your own home, without paying for expensive dental visits.

Beat Gum Disease Now


  2. NHS
  3. Leishman SJ, Do HL, Ford PJ. Cardiovascular disease and the role of oral bacteria. J Oral Microbiol. 2010 Dec 21;2. doi: 10.3402/jom.v2i0.5781. PMID: 21523220; PMCID: PMC3084572. Accessed on 29/4/23 at
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Written by Sharon Fyles

Periodontitis Expert & Writer

Sharon Fyles, BSc (Hons, SW), MSc, Dip,  is a Manchester-based expert dental writer specialising in periodontal diseases and their treatment.


Medically Reviewed and Verified by Dr. Gareth Edwards BDS (Hons), MFDS (RCPS Glasgow)

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