Feb. 17, 2022 — Children with heart conditions are more likely to have frequent cavities, toothaches, or bleeding gums, according to a new study from the CDC.
If oral bacteria travel into the bloodstream, children with heart disease could be prone to get other conditions such as infective endocarditis, the researchers said. The rare condition leads to inflammation in the inner lining of the heart and can be life-threatening.
“Therefore, preventive dental care (i.e., check-ups, dental cleaning, radiographs, fluoride treatment, or sealant) to maintain oral health is important,” the study authors wrote.
The research team analyzed data from the National Survey of Children’s Health for 2016-2019, comparing oral health status and recent dental care for children with and without heart conditions.
About 10% of children and teenagers ages 1-17 with heart conditions had “poor” to “fair” dental health, as compared with 5% of kids without heart problems. About 17% of those with heart conditions also had symptoms of poor oral health, such as decayed teeth or cavities.
Among children with a heart condition, those with lower household incomes and intellectual and developmental disabilities had worse oral health.
What’s more, one in six children with heart conditions hadn’t received preventive dental care in the past 12 months.
Children with heart conditions may be more prone to poor oral health and cavities for several reasons, Karrie Downing, the lead study author and a CDC researcher, told UPI. They may have surgeries or other procedures that make it harder to care for their teeth and gums.
Children with heart conditions may also have developmental or intellectual disabilities that make dental care more challenging, both at home and in the dentist’s office, she said.
Heart medications can also create issues, Downing noted, since some cause dry mouth that may lead to cavities.
Parents can help their children by encouraging them to drink more water and avoid juices and sweetened drinks, Alene D’Alesio, DMD, chief of pediatric dentistry at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, who wasn’t involved with the study, told UPI.
“I don’t want anyone to think that heart disease equals cavities,” she said.
D’Alesio also recommended that parents monitor their kids’ brushing and flossing and consider an electric toothbrush or floss pick to help kids maintain their oral health. Children with heart conditions may also need to see a dentist more often, she said.
“They should see a pediatric dentist no later than the age of 1,” she said.