Toothaches & Heart Attacks: Can a Tooth Infection Lead to Heart Problems?

tooth infection spread to heart

Tooth infections, while seemingly minor health issues, can have serious consequences if not treated. These infections, commonly referred to as abscesses, are pus-filled pockets brought on by bacterial infections in the teeth or gums. Usually, they are characterized by excruciating, throbbing toothaches that can radiate to the neck, ears, or jawbone. Other symptoms include discomfort with hot or cold food or drink, redness and swelling in the mouth, a bitter taste, bad breath, and general discomfort or uneasiness.

Tooth infections are primarily caused by poor oral hygiene, untreated dental decay, gum disease, dental trauma, and even routine dental procedures. According to a study that was published in the Journal of Dental Research, people who do not receive treatment for dental infections are 2.7 times more likely to develop cardiovascular issues, such as coronary artery disease. This leads us to the question: Can tooth infections cause heart problems?

Can Tooth Infections Cause Heart Problems?

Over recent years, the health community has been increasingly intrigued by the potential connection between oral health and heart disease. More specifically, research has honed in on how unseen tooth infections—known as apical periodontitis—could be a silent trigger for heart problems. Disturbingly, these hidden infections have been linked to an up to 2.7-fold increase in heart disease risk. Left untreated, such infections can precipitate severe inflammation, potentially leading to the death of cardiac tissue and, in turn, a devastating heart attack.

The key to this relationship is the way that pathogenic bacteria enter the body through the mouth and spread throughout it. When a tooth infection goes untreated, it provides an open door for these bacteria to enter the bloodstream and set a course for the heart. Once there, they can latch onto any damaged areas, instigating further inflammation. This inflammatory response can lead to the formation of blood clots, which, if they block the flow of blood to the heart, can incite a heart attack.

In addition to tooth infections, gum disease—also known as periodontitis—has been implicated in heart disease. Although the direct link is still under investigation, current theories suggest that bacteria from gum disease can infiltrate the body, sparking inflammation in the heart’s vessels and thus contributing to heart disease.

Ignoring Tooth Infections: A Risky Move for Heart Health?

It’s easy to overlook tooth infections and tooth decay. After all, a bit of toothache or sensitivity now and then may seem like nothing more than a minor inconvenience. However, these seemingly insignificant issues can have far-reaching implications for our overall health, particularly our hearts.

Bacteria that cause tooth decay or infections can enter the bloodstream if the condition is not treated. It can then travel to other areas of the body, including the heart. After entering the heart, the bacteria have the ability to stick to any damaged tissue, which can result in endocarditis, an inflammation of the heart’s inner lining. This illness can cause abnormal blood flow, which can result in potentially fatal consequences like heart attacks.

Thus, how can one determine whether a tooth infection is affecting the heart? There are several warning signs to watch out for:

  • Fever: If your body temperature rises, this could be a sign that the infection is spreading.
  • Sweating or chills: These can be symptoms of a systemic infection.
  • Rapid heart rate or palpitations: These symptoms can indicate that the infection has reached the heart.
  • Shortness of breath: If you find yourself becoming breathless easily, it could be due to the infection affecting your heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently.
  • Swelling in your legs or feet: This can be a sign of heart failure, which can result from a severe, untreated tooth infection.

Get medical help right away if you experience any of these symptoms. Tooth infections can be treated early to stop them from getting worse and developing into major heart problems. 

Prevention and Management: Avoiding Tooth Problems to Protect Your Heart

Preventing tooth infections from becoming a serious threat to your heart health starts with maintaining good oral hygiene. Here are some steps you can take:

Regular Brushing and Flossing

Make sure to floss every day and use fluoride toothpaste to brush your teeth at least twice a day. This aids in the removal of plaque, a bacterial film that is sticky and can lead to gum disease and tooth decay.

Eat a Balanced Diet

Eat less sugary food and beverages because they can promote the growth of bacteria that cause tooth decay. Choose a diet high in fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and healthy fats instead.

Regular Dental Check-ups

See your dentist for examinations and cleanings by a professional at least twice a year. Before they worsen, dentists are able to identify early indicators of gum disease, tooth decay, and other oral health issues.

Don’t Smoke or Use Tobacco

Tobacco use can lead to various health issues, including gum disease. If you smoke or use tobacco, consider seeking help to quit.

Prompt Treatment

If you have a toothache or notice other signs of a tooth infection, see your dentist immediately. Treatment as soon as possible can stop the infection from spreading and safeguard your heart.

For individuals who are at higher risk—those with a history of heart disease, for example—dentists may prescribe antibiotics before dental procedures to prevent endocarditis. This preventive measure, known as antibiotic prophylaxis, can be an important part of managing heart health for at-risk patients.

Toothaches and Heart Attacks: The Importance of Dental Hygiene

It is clear from the wealth of research available that there is a significant link between oral health and heart disease.

The mechanism behind this connection is believed to be the spread of harmful bacteria from the mouth to the heart. Heart attacks may result from the inflammation and tissue damage caused by these bacteria.

This emphasizes how crucial it is to practice good dental hygiene. To prevent tooth decay and infection, it is imperative to practice regular brushing and flossing, abstain from tobacco use, minimize sugar-filled foods and beverages, and schedule routine dental examinations. You are safeguarding your heart health by taking care of your oral health.

Further, individuals with heart valve disease or other cardiovascular conditions should be particularly vigilant about their oral health, as they may be at a higher risk of complications from tooth infections.

Finally, remember not to take a toothache lightly. It could be a sign of something more serious. Keep in mind that your smile is a window into your general health as well as appearance. Maintaining a clean and healthy smile may benefit your heart.


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