February is Heart Health Month: Can Improving Oral Health Improve Heart Health?

Good Oral Care Can Equal a Healthy Heart

When we celebrate Valentine’s Day, we naturally think of hearts, and that can’t help but bring your own heart to mind.

If you are interested in maintaining a healthy heart, you might want to add good oral care to your healthy lifestyle.

The theory that oral health can contribute to heart health has been around for the past one hundred years, but it has been in just the past couple of decades that scientific studies have started to support that suggestion. Research is now finding that oral health, and gum disease in particular, are indeed related to heart disease. Gum disease generally refers to gingivitis, inflammation of the gums, and the more severe periodontitis, a serious infection that can lead to destruction of the bone and gums that hold teeth in place.

However, the connection between periodontal disease and heart disease is not a connection that people naturally think of.

Can preventing periodontal disease with brushing and flossing  prevent heart disease? According to the American Academy of Periodontology, people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to have coronary artery disease (also called heart disease). And the presence of common problems in the mouth, including gum disease (gingivitis), cavities, and missing teeth, are as good at predicting heart disease as are cholesterol levels.

Scientific studies have been published in the Journal of Internal Medicine and the British Medical Journal which show that there is a connection between serious gum disease and atherosclerosis, which causes heart disease. Atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries, is the build-up of fatty deposits on the lining of artery walls that can lead to blood clots.

Bacteria, which grow between your teeth and cause dental plaque to build-up, can enter the bloodstream when your gum starts bleeding, which happens easily if you have gum disease. Once in the blood stream, these organisms attach to pre-existing fatty deposits in coronary arteries (those that supply blood to the heart). This leads to inflammation, which may cause blood clots that can decrease blood flow to the heart and cause a heart attack.

So the answer to the question “Can improving oral health help prevent cardiovascular problems?” appears to be a resounding Yes!

Brush and floss every day, and see your dentist at least twice a year for regular cleanings and oral exams. This will pay off for your dental health and for your heart health, as well.