Oral Hygiene and Heart Health: Broaching the Topic with Patients  

DATE: Aug 31, 2018
AUTHOR: Jessica Raymond-Allbritten, CRDH, BASDH

Highlights

  • According to the Postgraduate Medical Journal, it is possible for bacteria from the oral cavity to spread to other parts of the body, which means that the connection between oral hygiene and heart health is a consideration.
  • There's a connection between periodontal disease and cardiovascular diseases like atherosclerosis, states the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
  • 47 percent of Americans over age 30 have some degree of periodontal disease, states the Journal of Dental Research.

Dental hygienists use evidence-based care when assessing patients' oral health and correlating their habits, behaviors, conditions and diseases. The challenging part is translating what is going on in patients' mouths and how it is affecting their oral health and, at times, overall health. Research shows that there is a link between oral hygiene and heart health. This is just one example where dental and medical professionals may need to team up to provide the best care possible.

Read on to learn more about periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease, and how to communicate the connection and educate patients to take charge of their oral and systemic health.

Understand

Poor oral hygiene, depending on the host response, results in periodontal disease which may affect heart health as atherosclerosis, a cardiovascular disease where plaque builds up and then narrows the arteries, as defined by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. A study published by the Postgraduate Medical Journal reports that, in 1954, scientists discovered that it was possible for bacteria from the oral cavity to spread to other parts of the body. Decades later, modern medicine suggests that periodontal disease, due to high-risk pathogens, may contribute to atherosclerosis. The more advanced periodontal disease is, the greater the chance of bacteria entering the bloodstream, which can cause acute and chronic inflammation of blood vessels.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease is the leading cause of death in Americans. A survey presented in the Journal of Dental Research reported that 47 percent of people age 30 and older had some degree of periodontal disease, which represents 64.7 million American adults. When you compare the leading cause of death and the shocking number of people with gum disease, it is clear that medical and dental professionals must alert their patients of the link. This may help motivate patients to improve their oral health and, potentially, also their systemic health. The first person to alert someone of this correlation may be a dental hygienist, so it is key to broach the oral hygiene and heart health topic during appointments.

Communicate

Talking to patients about the oral-systemic link is very important. The first step is to review every patient's medical history before the morning huddle to determine if a discussion should take place. Once the patient arrives, ask them about their family history in regard to heart health and other systemic conditions. If the patient has an increased risk based on medical history and the patient has active periodontal disease, consider doing a saliva test for high-risk bacteria. It is also important to recommend periodontal maintenance every three months, with a referral to a periodontist if localized areas become a concern.

Educate

Every patient learns differently. Using flip charts, models, animated videos and graphics may help patients understand and visualize their current oral health. Introduce Colgate's Gum Health Physical into your conversation, too. Gum Health Physical is a valuable educational tool because it illustrates where patients must pay more attention to brushing and flossing. You can also print out reports that act as a reminder of your conversation and the oral care products that you have recommended to help restore their oral health.

When you're going over areas of concern, it is important to sit the patient upright in the chair. Sitting the patient upright will get his/her attention. Being at the same eye level as the patient can help him/her hear and understand what you are discussing. Encourage patients to visit their primary care physician if you think their medical history warrants a checkup.

Takeaways

  • Explain the oral hygiene and heart health link to patients in terms they can understand.
  • Consider patients' gum health and medical history and possibly recommend they consult a medical doctor if you think they are at risk.
  • Send patients home with customized reports, reminding them where they must improve their oral care.