Un Corazón Sano: Heart Health Risks for Latinas
What do heart and gum disease have in common? Learn about the health risks for Latinas.
By: Rafael Rondón
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for Latina women in the United States. According to the American Heart Association, Latina women on average experience heart disease earlier than women of other ethnic groups. Most alarmingly, only 1 in 3 Latinas is aware that heart disease is their number one killer – more than any form of cancer. (American Heart Association)
Many cardiologists say women often experience different symptoms than men, including shortness of breath, pain in their arm, or in their jaw. Doctors say women should look out for the following:
- Uncomfortable pressure, pain in center of chest that may last a few minutes, go away and come back
- Pain or discomfort in arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweat, nausea, vomiting or lightheadedness
In addition, periodontal disease, or poor oral health, has been associated with heart disease.
The good news is that cardiovascular disease can be preventable by focusing on lifestyle changes. For instance, eating better with a diet full of fruits and vegetables, as well as reducing salt intake and regular exercise can help reduce the risk of heart attack.
What does gum disease have to do with heart disease?
Both of these conditions have to do with inflammation, or swelling. We know that heart disease leads to hardened arteries, which is a condition that makes it hard for blood to flow to your heart. It puts you at greater risk for heart attack, or even stroke. Though gum disease has been proven as an elevated risk factor for systemic conditions, including heart disease and stroke, the etiology is due to the inflammation generated by the pathogenesis of the
Gum inflammation, in response to plaque bacteria and their toxins, can lead to redness, swelling and bleeding – this stage is called “gingivitis.” This form of gum disease does not include any loss of bone and tissue that hold teeth in place, and gingivitis can usually be reversed.
As gingivitis progresses, it can advance to “periodontitis.” In periodontitis, gums pull away from the teeth and form spaces – or “pockets” – that become infected. The body’s immune system fights the bacteria as the plaque spreads and grows below the gum line. Bacterial toxins and the body’s natural response to infection start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place. If not treated, the bones, gums, and tissue that support the teeth are destroyed. The teeth may eventually become loose and have to be extracted.
If you disrupt the gum layer, you're going to get bacteria in your bloodstream, which can go anywhere and start inflammation throughout the body. Thomas Boyden, Jr., MD medical director of preventive cardiology at Spectrum Health Medical Group Cardiovascular Services in Grand Rapids, MI says, “Inflammation is one of the main things that cause damage to blood vessels, including those of the heart.”
Tips for Periodontal Prevention
One of the best things you can do to prevent heart and gum disease is striving to live a healthier lifestyle, like eating more nutrient-rich foods and exercising regularly. You can also be proactive with your oral hygiene health by brushing daily with an electric toothbrush – like the Oral-B GENIUS Pro 8000 Toothbrush – and flossing regularly, along with consistent dental exams by your dentist or dental hygienist.
In addition to these simple steps, using antibacterial oral care products – like Crest Pro-Health toothpaste and mouthwash – that are designed to fight gingivitis will help reduce gum inflammation and will help prevent or control gum disease.
Rafael Rondón has been working in the dental field for over 27 years. For the past 17 years, he has worked with dental group practice, where he helps to develop and implement dental hygiene standard of care for the organization – including periodontal therapy, efficient hygiene schedules, improving patient care and dental hygiene team development.