The tooth bone's connected to the heart bone - (3/5/2019)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

Mr. Greenly came into the pharmacy holding his aching jaw. As he handed the pharmacist a prescription for high-dose ibuprofen, he said, “The dentist just yanked another tooth and the Novocain is wearing off!” The pharmacist is fully aware of Mr. Greenly’s dental history. Tooth decay, gum disease, and toothlessness – all of which Mr. Greenly has – can negatively affect the rest of the human body. 

Dental problems can create heart disease. Study after study has demonstrated that both periodontal disease and total loss of teeth were associated with greater risk of cardiovascular disease, specifically hypertension, and heart attack. Evidence from another study revealed that a person with fewer than 10 of his own remaining teeth is 7 times more likely to die of coronary disease than is a person with 25 or more of his own teeth.

Poor oral hygiene affects more than just the heart. A 2019 report found that a certain bacterium found in the mouth – Fusobacterium nucleatum – can make colon cancer cells more aggressive while not affecting non-cancerous cells. Colon cancer cells manufacture a protein called Annexin A1, which attracts F. nucleatum that, in turn, energizes the cancer cells to grow faster. The researchers found that those with higher levels of Annexin A1 fared worse, no matter what their gender, age, or cancer stage. If Annexin A1 levels can be determined early on, then the prognosis for colon cancer can be improved.  

People with diabetes are likely to have periodontal disease, probably because diabetics are more susceptible to infection anywhere in the body. Poorly controlled diabetics are especially at risk because they are more likely to develop oral disease than well-controlled diabetics are. Emerging evidence also suggests that periodontal disease predicts the development of end-stage kidney disease in diabetic patients, which can be terminal.

Tooth loss from any cause may be associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. A new study included more than 4,000 participants, aged 65 and older, who underwent a dental examination and a psychiatric assessment. Compared with participants who still had many of their natural teeth, those with fewer or no teeth were much more likely to have experienced memory loss. 

A recent study has shown that patients with poor oral hygiene are more likely to have Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium that results in stomach ulcers, both in plaque on their teeth and in the stomach. Poor dental care can affect pregnancy. Even though most pregnant women do not smoke, do not drink alcohol, but eat properly, many of them deliver prematurely, exposing their babies to chronic illnesses as they develop. However, researchers now believe that infection with bacteria from dental disease may affect the health of the pregnant uterus leading to low birth-weight and premature contractions of the uterus. 

The impact of oral disease on people’s everyday lives is subtle and pervasive, influencing eating, sleeping, and social relationships. Who wants to face the public with rotted teeth? Collectively, oral diseases create substantial pain and suffering, disability and, in certain cases, death. Mr. Greenly thanked the pharmacist for the information and said he will give it much thought in the upcoming days.

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Read more at

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