I have changed the column's format this month in order to highlight critical new research that suggests inflammation is an even more important trigger to heart attacks and strokes than cholesterol.
Science and medicine have considered high cholesterol to be among the chief causes of heart attacks and strokes, but a series of groundbreaking studies have turned that theory on its head.
Because one-half of heart attack and stroke victims evidenced healthy cholesterol levels, scientists knew there was a missing link. New research has found that low-grade inflammation, originating throughout the body and even in excess fat, and including periodontal or gum infection, causes heart attacks, even when the patient exhibits no cholesterol-based arterial clogging.
What should you now be doing to protect your health? First, you need to know that about 80% of the American public has periodontal disease in some form.
If you do not know your LDL, (low-density lipo-protein) level, be tested for it, and at the same time have your physician test to evaluate the presence of C-reactive protein, one of many chemicals that increases in your body in the presence of inflammation. High levels of this protein put you at twice the risk of people with high cholesterol, even when your cholesterol level is low.
If you have high levels of both C-reactive protein AND cholesterol, your risk factor increases 9-fold.
One of the most important roles of your dental team is diagnosing and treating periodontal disease in its earliest stages, when it can be cured and before it places you in this risk category. If you have periodontal disease, you should request that your physician and your dentist share information after your visits.
How can you tell if you have periodontal disease? Symptoms are:
pocketing at the base of your teeth measuring deeper than 3 mm,
red, swollen or tender gums,
bone loss at the base of your teeth,
teeth which look unusually long,
persistent bad breath or bad taste,
permanent teeth that are moving apart or loosening,
or you may have no symptoms!
In my practice, we measure the six pockets at the base of each patient's tooth at least once a year. Bleeding or deepening measurements in more than 6-8 pocket sites is cause for concern and action. My team and I encourage our patients to be actively involved in and aware of their charting. Ask to see your periodontal charting from past and current visits. Follow your own progress and be aware of your own dental health.
If your dentist advises you that you have periodontal infection, take it seriously. It cannot be treated by homecare, but requires treatment by a dentist or periodontist, depending on its severity. This stunning new research indicates it may save your life!