The Star Malaysia - Star2
Importance of dental hygiene
THE human mouth teems with bacteria. Dayto- day brushing, flossing and mastication can cause bacteria to enter the bloodstream, causing low- grade bacteremia ( presence of bacteria in the blood).
Dr Geetha Kandavello ( pic), senior consultant paediatric and adult congenital cardiologist at the National Heart Institute ( better known by its Bahasa Malaysia acronym IJN), explains that poor dental and gum hygiene significantly increases the risk of bacteremia.
“When there is high intraoral bacteria content, the chances of them breaching the barrier between the gums and skin to enter the bloodstream increases, causing highgrade bacteremia,” she says.
The conditions of the teeth and gums are not exclusive to oral health. They can affect the rest of the body, including the heart. Dr Geetha explains that those with congenital or valvular heart conditions are susceptible to infective endocarditis, which is the inflammation of the endocardium ( membrane lining the inside of heart chambers and the surface of valves).
Bacteria easily lodge and proliferate in abnormal structures of the heart or valve, damaging them.
These can be seen as vegetations ( collection of clots and rotten tissues).
As the heart pumps infected blood to the rest of the body, bacteremia can spread to the brain, spleen, kidney and liver, leading to septic embolisation, where a bacteriainfected embolus is dislodged from its original location and causes infection in other parts of the body – for example, an embolism in the right side of the heart can affect the lungs.
“Infective endocarditis can cause significant mortality and morbidity in patients with valvular and congenital heart disease, artificial valves, conduits and foreign material.
This is more so in Malaysia, where rheumatic heart disease ( acquired valvular heart disease) is still prevalent,” says Dr Geetha.
Prosthetic instruments, conduits or tubes in the body provide environments conducive for bacterial growth, allowing them to breed and vegetate.
To avoid these, Dr Geetha says it is crucial for children and adults and those with structural heart abnormalities to be vigilant when it comes to maintaining good oral hygiene.
“Proper teeth and gum care is important, including regular visits to the dentist from young to remove fear and establish a trusting relationship,” she says.
For more information, contact IJN.