HJAR Mar/Apr 2020

52 MAR / APR 2020 I  HEALTHCARE JOURNAL OF ARKANSAS DIALOGUE COLUMN ORAL HEALTH THERE has been considerable documenta- tion of oral health and heart health associa- tion. Discoveries in heart disease date back to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome 1 . The belief that heart health and oral health are associated dates back to the 1940s when it was discovered that bacteria from a dental extraction led to infective endocarditis (IE) in patients with damaged heart valves 2 . Significant documentation also exists on the connection between poor oral health and cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death inArkansas, and across the globe. It is undetermined whether the association is a causal connection or due to a related condi- tion, such as inflammation 3 . Since dental caries, or tooth decay, is the most common disease worldwide and heart disease is the largest cause of death world- wide, it seems logical these two conditions would be linked 4 . With this in mind, why aren’t we doing more to enhance collabora- tion among medical and dental practices to promote prevention? Poor oral health is the biggest risk factor for periodontal disease, which is an inflam- matory disease affecting the supporting structures of the teeth. In the early stages, these supporting structures—gingiva and oral mucosa tissues—can become swollen and red due to the inflammatory process. When harmful bacteria are allowed to thrive, healthy tissues become inflamed and cause the disease to progress. The mechanism of this disease is complex, as it involves tox- ins which bacteria produce in an acid form. Calcified plaque, along with debris left in the mouth, reside on teeth and root surfaces. This provides bacteria the nourishment needed to produce toxins and advances inflammation. Regular dental examinations can reveal a lot about a patient’s overall health. The oral cavity is an important window into the body, and certain signs and symptoms occurring in the mouth are clues to a person’s overall health. Currently, there is a huge disconnect between the dental and medical fields, which needs correction in the form of collaboration—popularly known as medical-dental integration. From a public health perspective, this is essential, as it provides a means for these two disciplines to work together toward better health outcomes. WHAT YOUR MOUTH SAYS ABOUT YOUR HEART: The Link Between Oral and Heart Health