In an article in late April, the topic of preparing for congenital heart disease surgery was explored, detailing all that takes place prior to surgery for a CHD patient. Within that piece, the importance of dental care was mentioned as an integral step for patients to take prior to surgery. However, dental care is not only important for CHD patients prior to surgery but also to patients throughout their lives both before and after surgery.
According to Karoline Berge, R.N., the importance of dental care, comes down to preventing infection, especially in those with synthetic material within the heart. Berge said, “Dental procedures can dislodge bacteria in the mouth that can then enter the bloodstream and attach to those foreign areas, and any place where the heart has had surgeries done.”
Prior to surgery, a patient has to receive clearance from their dentist that there are no infections in the mouth, such as an abscessing tooth or bleeding gums. At times, a tooth may have to be extracted from the mouth in order to rid the mouth of infection prior to surgery. After surgery, and throughout the patient’s life they must be watching for abscesses, bleeding of the gums or tongue, enamel breakdown, gum disease, and sores that won’t heal or any pain within the mouth, would all warrant a visit with their dentist.
The self-care a patient does with their dental hygiene is very similar to that of a non-cardiac patient, “the strategies would be the same for good oral hygiene (brushing twice daily for at least two minutes, flossing, using mouthwash, visiting the dentist every six months, having regular x-rays of the teeth), it wouldn’t be any different for a cardiac patient, but being very vigilant and staying in those health patterns, and not getting off the bandwagon, would be very important” Berge said.
Berge explained that for the first six months after surgery they recommend no dental visits. In addition, if anyone is on blood thinners they should consult their cardiologist before a dental procedure so that the procedure can be done safely.
Lastly, it is important at all times to be wary of the symptoms of endocarditis. The symptoms include: fevers, chills, unexplained weight loss, poor appetite, unusual amount of tiredness, night sweats, and achy joints and muscles. If there is any question about these symptoms, a visit to your cardiologist is of the utmost importance.
A final tip from Berge on how to prevent infections in the mouth is to keep your fingers out of your mouth. She explained, “With biting fingernails or cuticles, and keeping fingers out of the mouth, as they transmit bacteria easily so keeping them away from the mouth along with regular hand washing, is an easy way to avoid infection.”
For more information on dental care with up-to-date references and tips on endocarditis and how to take care of your teeth, visit the Adult Congenital Heart Association website.