In addition to your exam findings, do you evaluate your patient’s blood pressure readings? May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month, when you can renew focus on the importance of heart health in oral health and total wellness care.

The time you take for a blood pressure reading gives you vital information for your patient’s gum treatment, which may reduce hypertension risk.

The causal link between gum disease and hypertension

A March 2021 research study showed that patients with periodontitis and no other health issues are twice as likely to have elevated blood pressure as those with healthy gums. This may suggest that periodontal bacteria can trigger an inflammatory response that affects blood vessel function and lead to the development of hypertension.

When does blood pressure signal health risks?

A normal blood pressure reading is less than 120 mm Hg systolic and less than 80 mm Hg diastolic, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. You should be concerned if the systolic/diastolic reading falls into one of these categories:

  • Elevated: 120-129 mm Hg and less than 80 mm Hg
  • Stage 1 Hypertension: 130-139 mm Hg or 80-89 mm Hg
  • Stage 2 Hypertension: >140 mm Hg or > 90 mm Hg

Hypertension puts your patients at risk for heart disease and stroke, the leading causes of death in the U.S. Nearly half (45%) the adults in the U.S. have hypertension or are taking medication to control it, according to the CDC, and only 24% of them have it under control.

The dangers of gum disease

Gum disease triggers inflammation that thickens the lining of blood vessels. The thickening plaques decrease blood flow, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Patients with healthier gums had lower blood pressure and responded better to medications, compared to those with periodontitis, according to an analysis, published in Hypertension, based on review of medical and dental exam records of more than 3,600 people with high blood pressure. 

What’s more, periodontal therapy can make a difference. Intensive periodontal treatment lowered blood pressure levels (12.67 mm Hg/9.65 mm Hg) in patients over six months, after a four-week intervention, according to a clinical study published in 2017 in the Journal of Periodontology.

How you can educate your patients about high blood pressure

With this in mind, use your blood pressure check as an opportunity to educate your patients. If you notice an elevated reading, discuss the importance of getting blood pressure under control.

And you can explain how keeping gums healthy can contribute to better circulation and heart function through lowering blood pressure.

Your periodontal treatment and advice on daily flossing and brushing regimens take on added value for your patient, in reducing risks from hypertension.