May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month. Many people are unaware that there is a strong relationship between your oral health and cardiovascular health. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, approximately 30 percent of Americans have high blood pressure. Less than half of that 30 percent are able to keep their high blood pressure under control with medication, diet and exercise. Blood pressure has been nicknamed the “silent killer” because it is possible to have high blood pressure and no symptoms at all.
Always let your dentist know if you have high blood pressure, even if you are managing it with medication. Your dentist needs to be aware of the problem in order to monitor you. Chances are if your blood pressure is controlled and you have no other medical condition, it will not affect your treatment. However, there are times when the dentist may not be able to treat you because your blood pressure is too high.
After you inform your dentist that your doctor has diagnosed you with high blood pressure, he may take your blood pressure several times to establish a baseline. That is because some treatments and medications can raise your heart rate significantly. When the dentist has a baseline, he can tell if your treatment is negatively affecting your blood pressure in any way.
Local anesthetics containing epinephrine, a drug known for causing a rapid rise in heart rate, can be dangerous if you have high blood pressure. In fact, epinephrine can raise your risk of having a heart attack. Fortunately, most people with high blood pressure can receive local anesthesia as long as it does not contain epinephrine. However, your dentist needs as much information as possible in order to make a safe decision.
Most dentists prefer patients to have a blood pressure below 120/80, the normal reading according to American Heart Association guidelines, but a slight elevation won’t usually cause a problem. Sometimes blood pressure can become elevated due to an oral infection, especially when there is pain involved. Removing the abscess usually brings it back down to normal. Your dentist will make a decision based on all of the factors.
Some high blood pressure medications, such as calcium channel blockers, cause gingival hyperplasia, or gum overgrowth. If you have a problem with gum overgrowth the dentist will show you how to brush properly and probably ask you to come in more frequently for cleanings. In rare cases, patients require gum surgery to remove excess tissue.
Other high blood pressure medications make things taste funny or cause dry mouth, or xerostomia. Your mouth needs saliva to keep your teeth strong and resistant to decay. If your medication affects saliva production, you must be particularly vigilant about brushing and flossing to prevent cavities.
There’s no reason you can’t have a healthy smile even if you have high blood pressure. It is simply a matter of being proactive and partnering with your dentist to make the best decisions.
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