Dental Hygiene and Heart Infections
Patients with heart defects need to be more careful than others when it comes to dental hygiene. This is because patients with heart defects are at a risk of serious infections of the heart called infective endocarditis. Bacteria and other disease causing microorganisms normally tend to live in the teeth and oral cavity (mouth). They can enter the blood and cause infections in the heart especially if there is a defect in the heart like a hole or a faulty valve. These infections can be very dangerous and may even be life threatening. Thus a small hole in the heart which is usually a minor problem can have a serious and deadly complication in the form of infection caused by poor dental hygiene.
It is very important therefore for patients with heart defects to look after their teeth carefully; like brushing at least twice a day and seeking help early if there are signs of dental infection. A trip to the dentist every 6 months to clean the teeth is also a good idea and will help detect problems early. If patients require open heart surgery they need to get a dental clearance prior to the operation in order to avoid infection after surgery especially when artificial materials like artificial valves are being implanted.
Some children with certain types of heart defects may benefit from taking antibiotics before various dental and general surgical procedures. It is best to discuss with your child’s heart specialist if your child may need antibiotics.
There is however no doubt that dental hygiene is very important in the prevention of infective endocarditis. Every patient with a heart defect should receive counselling regarding this when they visit their cardiologist. The patient must see a dentist for regular follow up and care.