December 23

Why Your Heart Health is Your Dentist’s Concern

When you stop into your family’s dentist for a routine cleaning, it’s probably customary for you to exchange news with your dentist and their staff. Maybe you talk about your kids or catch up on the latest romantic developments in each other’s lives. Maybe you shake your heads over the news. Maybe you just discuss the weather. All of these pleasantries are perfectly normal, but many patients leave out a very important piece of information when talking to their dentists: their heart health. 

Certain patients with certain heart conditions can actually experience serious complications after dental cleanings, including a rare, life-threatening inflammation of the heart muscle and valves called endocarditis. This condition can occur when the bacteria in your mouth enter your bloodstream when your mouth bleeds, although it is very rare. Dentists take preventative medicine and safety to the extreme by talking with patients about their heart health and any underlying heart conditions and, if appropriate, prescribing a single-dose regimen of antibiotics that can be taken one hour before certain dental treatments. 

I Used to Get Antibiotics, but Now I Don’t. Why?

If you have a heart murmur or other benign heart condition, you probably received advice in the late 1990s about taking antibiotics prior to dental visits. At that time, the American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Heart Association (AHA) had determined that taking antibiotics would reduce the already-small risk for certain patients. However, in 2007, the two groups reviewed their guidelines and reduced the number of patients for whom they recommended antibiotics even further. In fact, there are only a few people who still should probably take antibiotics before a dental visit. Those people are:

  • Patients with previous bacterial endocarditis infections
  • People with artificial valves or prosthetic materials in their valves
  • Patients with cardiac valve disease who have had a cardiac transplant
  • Individuals with congenital heart disease, including specifically:
    • Unrepaired cyanotic congenital heart disease
    • Completely repaired congenital heart defects with prosthetic materials or a device during the first six months following the procedure
    • Repaired congenital heart disease with remaining defects at or near the site of the prosthetic patch or device

That list is highly technical, and although the odds are slim that you would fall into any of these categories without knowing it, it is important to keep your dentist informed. Let them know if you have experienced changes in your cardiac health and if you have a heart murmur or have had heart or vascular surgery in the last six months. 

Learn more about how your heart health and your dental health are directly related and make an appointment with Dr. Pat Crawford on our website, PatCrawfordDDS.com


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