How Oral Health is Linked to Heart Health

Man smiling while sitting in a dental chair.

Many Americans keep their hearts healthy by exercising regularly. They also try to eat nutritious meals, limiting foods containing sugar, starch, grease and fat. While exercising and eating healthily are great lifestyle habits, it’s also essential to take care of your teeth and gums to keep your heart healthy. Read on to learn more about how oral health is linked to heart health.

Heart disease

Medical professionals describe heart disease as a thickening of the walls of the coronary arteries due to a buildup of fatty proteins. When oral bacteria enter the bloodstream, they attach to the fatty plaque, forming clots that can obstruct the normal flow of blood to the heart. Harmful bacteria can cause inflammation and damage the heart.

Decay and infection

When you brush or floss your teeth, do your gums bleed? This can be an early sign of an infection. Oral bacteria combine with sugars and starches in the foods you eat to form sticky plaque on your teeth. If the plaque is not removed with daily brushing and flossing, decay and infection may develop. Eventually, the infection can destroy roots and gums that support the teeth. Infection also plays a role in how oral health is linked to heart health.

Gum (periodontal) disease

Medical professionals have found a link between coronary heart disease and gum disease, also known as periodontal disease. Gum disease is an infection in the structures around the teeth. According to medical professionals, people with gum disease are two to three times more likely to suffer from a heart attack, stroke or other serious cardiovascular event.

Researchers have identified several causes of periodontal disease. Here are five common ones:

  1. Genetics

    Some Americans may have a genetic trait that could increase their chance of developing periodontal disease. Even if that’s the case, you can be diligent about brushing and flossing every day to minimize any possible genetic impact.

  1. Smoking, vaping and tobacco use

    Smoking and vaping can raise the risk of periodontal disease. Smokers often develop thick plaque on their teeth, increasing the likelihood of developing gum disease. Plus, smoking in any form definitely is linked to both oral health and heart health.

  1. Crowded teeth, braces or bridgework

    Most people find flossing and brushing awkward around crowded teeth, braces and bridgework. It may be tempting to skip brushing and flossing for a day or two because it seems like a hassle. But you’ll only make it easier for plaque to form on teeth, causing decay and gum disease.

  1. Diseases

    Some diseases like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and HIV infection can affect oral health. People who suffer from diseases like these may be at higher risk for developing periodontal disease. If sore, swollen gums are left untreated, periodontal disease can develop. This, in turn, can cause the bacteria and inflammation that links poor oral health to poor heart health.

  1. Medications

    Some medications can cause dry mouth. When this happens, people produce less saliva, which is essential for good oral health. Saliva helps rinse away food particles stuck between teeth, and around the gums, that can lead to decay. Other drugs also can cause the gums to enlarge, trapping plaque against tooth surfaces.

The fact that oral health is linked to heart health is a real issue that all people (even their pets) face. However, with daily brushing and flossing, regular dental visits, and a heart healthy diet, all of us can improve our lives for the long term.

Harvard Health Publishing
Mayo Clinic
American Heart Association

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