Oral care and heart disease: What you need to know
Did you know that your oral health can affect your heart health? According to several studies, people who have poor oral health, such as gum disease or tooth loss, have higher rates of cardiovascular problems, such as heart attack or stroke, than people with good oral health. In this blog post, we will explore the possible link between oral care and heart disease, and what you can do to protect your smile and your heart.
How are oral care and heart disease connected?
There are different theories on how oral care and heart disease are connected, but one of the most common ones is that the bacteria that infect the gums and cause gingivitis and periodontitis can also travel to blood vessels elsewhere in the body where they cause inflammation and damage. This can lead to tiny blood clots, heart attack and stroke. In fact, researchers have found remnants of oral bacteria within atherosclerotic blood vessels far from the mouth .
Another theory is that it’s not the bacteria themselves, but the body’s immune response to them that causes the problem. Inflammation is a natural defense mechanism against infection, but chronic inflammation can also harm healthy tissues and organs, including the heart and brain. People with gum disease have higher levels of inflammation in their blood than people without gum disease .
A third theory is that there may be no direct connection between oral care and heart disease, but rather a common risk factor that affects both conditions. For example, smoking is a major cause of both gum disease and cardiovascular disease, as well as other factors such as poor diet, stress, diabetes and obesity. When these factors are controlled for, the link between oral care and heart disease may disappear or become weaker .
What are some other health problems related to oral care?
Oral care and heart disease are not the only health issues that are connected. Poor oral health can also increase the risk or severity of other conditions, such as:
- Endocarditis. This is an infection of the inner lining of the heart chambers or valves that usually occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of the body, such as the mouth, spread through the bloodstream and attach to certain areas in the heart.
- Diabetes. This is a condition that affects how the body uses sugar (glucose) for energy. People with diabetes have a higher risk of gum disease and tooth decay because they have lower resistance to infection and higher blood sugar levels that can damage the gums and teeth. Conversely, people with gum disease have a harder time controlling their blood sugar levels.
- HIV/AIDS. This is a condition that weakens the immune system and makes it harder to fight off infections. People with HIV/AIDS often have oral problems, such as painful sores (mucosal lesions), dry mouth (xerostomia), fungal infections (candidiasis) and tooth loss.
- Osteoporosis. This is a condition that causes the bones to become weak and brittle. People with osteoporosis may lose bone in their jaws, which can lead to tooth loss and changes in facial appearance. Some medications used to treat osteoporosis can also affect the jawbone and cause a rare but serious condition called osteonecrosis.
- Alzheimer’s disease. This is a condition that affects memory and thinking skills. People with Alzheimer’s disease may have worsening oral health as their cognitive abilities decline. Some studies have also suggested that oral bacteria may be involved in the development or progression of Alzheimer’s disease .
What can you do to prevent oral care and health problems?
The good news is that you can take steps to prevent both oral care and health problems by following some simple tips:
- Brush your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes with a fluoride toothpaste. This will help remove plaque, bacteria and food particles from your teeth and gums.
- Floss daily to clean between your teeth where your toothbrush can’t reach. This will help prevent gum disease and tooth decay.
- Visit your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings. Your dentist can detect and treat any signs of gum disease or tooth decay before they become serious. Your dentist can also advise you on the best oral care products and techniques for your needs.
- Quit smoking or avoid tobacco products. Smoking damages your gums and increases your risk of gum disease and cardiovascular disease. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor or dentist about nicotine replacement therapy or other options.
- Eat a balanced diet that is low in sugar and high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. This will help nourish your teeth and gums, as well as your heart and blood vessels.
- Manage your stress levels. Stress can affect your immune system and make you more prone to infections and inflammation. Try to find healthy ways to cope with stress, such as exercise, meditation, hobbies or social support.
- Monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. These are important indicators of your cardiovascular health and can be affected by your oral health. If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, follow your doctor’s advice on how to control them with medication, diet or lifestyle changes.
Oral care and health problems are more connected than you may think. By taking good care of your mouth, you are also taking good care of your overall health. Remember to brush, floss, visit your dentist, quit smoking, eat well, manage stress and monitor your health regularly. Your smile and your heart will thank you!
How oral health may affect your heart, brain and risk of death | American Heart Association https://www.heart.org/en/news/2021/03/19/how-oral-health-may-affect-your-heart-brain-and-risk-of-death
Gum disease and the connection to heart disease – Harvard Health https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/gum-disease-and-the-connection-to-heart-disease
Bad toothbrushing habits tied to higher heart risk | American Heart Association https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/11/07/bad-tooth-brushing-habits-tied-to-higher-heart-risk
Oral health: A window to your overall health – Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/dental/art-20047475
Oral health conditions – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/conditions/index.html
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