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Healthy Smile = Healthy Heart

Brushing and Flossing Are More Important Than You Think

Ever hear of the phrase "I had my heart in my mouth" to suggest fear? You may be surprised to learn that there's a connection between oral health and heart health, so ignoring your teeth and gums should inspire a healthy dose of anxiety. The truth is that regular visits to the dentist just might save you from additional visits to the doctor.

The Mouth/Heart Connection

Your mouth is a breeding ground for bacteria. Most bacteria are either harmless or easily removed with daily brushing and flossing. But researchers have found that certain bacteria in your mouth may be linked to heart disease. A consensus report on gum disease and heart-disease risk, published by the American Journal of Cardiology and the Journal of Periodontology in 2009, found that oral disease causes inflammation that may increase the risk for cardiovascular disease.

It All Starts With Plaque

Lack of adequate oral hygiene can lead to plaque buildup on teeth. Plaque attracts more bacteria, which can cause gingivitis or inflammation of the gums. Untreated gingivitis can lead to more serious oral diseases, like periodontitis, which is inflammation and infection of the ligaments and bones that support the teeth.

The type of bacteria that causes periodontal disease is also linked to atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, according to findings from The Oral Infections and Vascular Disease Epidemiology Study conducted by the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. This study also found that patients with missing teeth showed thicker walls in their arteries.

Inflammation Triggers More Inflammation

Dr. T. David O'HalloranOne possible explanation for the link is that the bacteria that cause gum disease can make their way into the bloodstream and the body, triggering more inflammation. This type of bacteria can bind to platelets-which may result in blood clots, inflammation of blood vessels and/or growths on the heart valves. All of these can spell big trouble by potentially blocking the blood supply to the heart and brain.

"Researchers have not yet proven that gum disease can actually cause heart disease. Broader studies are needed to determine which comes first, heart disease or oral disease," said Dr. T. David O'Halloran, a CVI cardiologist and instructor at Harvard Medical School. "But we know that inflammation can raise the risk of heart disease, and poor oral health can increase inflammation throughout the body."

If You Already Have Heart Disease

If you have heart disease or have had heart surgery, let your dentist know. When gums bleed during dental work, bacteria can enter your bloodstream and may cause an infection of the heart's lining or valves, a serious and sometimes fatal condition called bacterial endocarditis. Your dentist may request that you take an antibiotic before work is done on your teeth or gums.

Prevention Takes Minutes a Day

There is no dispute among physicians and dentists alike that practicing good oral health is preventative care for a host of overall health issues and it may be the easiest thing you can do to keep yourself healthy.

Take the following steps for a healthy smile and a healthy heart:

  • Visit the dentist every three to six months.
  • Brush at least twice a day and floss daily.
  • Drink fluoridated water and use fluoride toothpaste to protect against dental decay.
  • Avoid tobacco products, which increase your risk for periodontal disease, oral and throat cancers and oral fungal infections.
  • Seek professional care if you have sudden changes in your sense of taste or smell or if you notice any changes to your teeth or gums

"Most people are well aware of the need to monitor blood pressure and cholesterol levels while getting regular exercise and eating a healthy diet. But maintaining good dental hygiene needs to be part of everyone's healthy lifestyle to minimize the risk of heart problems," said Dr. O'Halloran.

So, if you skipped your flossing yesterday or haven't been to the dentist lately, you know what to do-your heart depends on it!

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted April 2011

Contact Information

CardioVascular Institute at
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215