Healthy teeth and gums are important for everyone―especially for children with heart conditions.
Young children with congenital heart defects (CHD) are at greater risk for tooth decay because their baby teeth may have weak enamel. Children with cyanotic heart disease may have weaker teeth due to poor oxygenation. Cardiac medications that may cause dry mouth can also increase risk for cavities. There are complicated background factors often associated with nutrition, medication, and the demanding situation of these children's families that all play a part in their dental health.
What's the connection between your teeth and your heart?
Did you know in the middle of each tooth is a blood vessel? Our teeth and our heart share the same blood―meaning the same bacteria that can lead to cavities in teeth can travel to the heart and cause a dangerous infection called endocarditis. Children with artificial valves or other prosthetic materials and those with cyanosis are especially susceptible.
What is endocarditis?
Endocarditis is an infection that occurs when germs enter the bloodstream and travel to the heart. Certain types of bacteria are the cause in most cases. Although rare, it is a very serious condition requiring hospitalization and long treatment. The best way to reduce the risk of endocarditis is to look after teeth and gums. A healthy mouth and teeth are also thought to protect the body from other illnesses. Endocarditis and other infections can also occur after damage to or cutting the skin, such as having oral piercings, so it is recommended that these are avoided.
What can I do to help protect my child's health?
Prevention is the best medicine, and there is much you can do to prevent cavities! Daily care and regular dental visits beginning at 12 months of age are the keystones to good oral health.
Finding a pediatric dentist is the first step. Your child's cardiologist may have a recommendation for a pediatric dentist who has experience treating children with heart conditions and can tell you whether your child requires antibiotics for routine cleanings or other procedures. You can also ask your child's cardiologist about any additional considerations for your child's dental visits, such as the use of sedation or anesthesia.
Talk with your child's dentist before the appointment. Discuss your child's diagnosis and any medications he or she takes. Certain drugs such as aspirin, Warfarin, and other blood thinners may complicate dental treatment. However, dental treatment is safe with the appropriate precautions. Ask your child's dentist to contact your child's cardiologist to coordinate care and decide whether your child should have any medication changes before any dental procedure.
Preventing tooth decay starts in the home. Reduce the amount of sugar your child eats and drinks to keep bacteria from starting the decay process. Good oral hygiene, such as regular brushing in the morning and before going to sleep and flossing, are great ways to remove the acid made by the bacteria that causes decay. Your child's dentist will have suggestions for other ways to keep your child's teeth healthy.
Additional Information from HealthyChildren.org:
Additional information regarding congenital heart defects and lifelong cardiac care is available at the Congenital Heart Public Health Consortium (CHPHC) website, www.chphc.org. The CHPHC is housed at the American Academy of Pediatrics through a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an effort to utilize public health principles to affect change for those whose lives are impacted by CHD. Organizational members of the Consortium represent the voice of providers, patients, families, clinicians and researchers.