Arterial Plaque and Oral Plaque

By Catherine M. Fascilla, D.D.S.

Recently a conversation arose in the office between a staff member and one of our patients about arterial plaque. This raised the question about the correlation to oral plaque, if any. Is plaque in the mouth the same as plaque in the arteries?

The answer to that question is no. Arterial plaque is a build-up of fat, cholesterol, calcium and scar tissue on the lining of the arterial wall. This type of plaque blocks the arteries and restricts blood flow to vital organs in your body resulting in heart attacks and strokes.

Plaque in the mouth is a bacterial film that builds up on teeth. It is a non-mineralized complex composed primarily of bacterial colonies in a matrix containing amino acids, carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, and salts from saliva and gingival fluids. Depending on bacterial activity and environmental factors, oral plaque may give rise to tooth decay, calculus (also known as tartar, the hardened form of plaque) and gum disease (inflammatory changes in gingival tissue that can cause tooth loss).

While the two types of plaque are very different, there appears to be a link between cardiovascular disease and gum disease. Patients with gum disease have nearly twice the risk of having heart disease. The link is not completely understood but it is believed that bacteria from the mouth get into the bloodstream through the inflamed oral tissues. Bacteria in the bloodstream damages the lining of the artery and contributes to arterial plaque build-up.

Further research is necessary to better understand the relationship between cardiovascular disease and gum disease. However, if you are prone to either, managing one disease may help you manage the other. It is important to work with your physician to monitor your cardiovascular health and to see your dentist regularly to reduce plaque and tartar build-up.

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