Brush Your Teeth—It May Be Good for Your Heart

Brush Your Teeth—It May Be Good for Your Heart

Remember your mother's reminders to brush your teeth? There is good reason for that. The mouth has more than 700 types of bacteria. These bacteria can get into the bloodstream. From there, they can travel to the heart.

Bacteria and Gum Disease

Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on the teeth. It can harden into tartar under the gumline and cause gingivitis. Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums around the teeth. It is the earliest and most treatable stage gum disease. It can be reversed with regular dental cleanings and good teeth and gum care.

If left untreated, gingivitis can lead to periodontitis. Periodontitis is a more severe form of gum disease. Bacteria invade the gums, bones, and tissues that support the teeth. Over time, gums separate from teeth. When this happens, pockets of bacteria form and deepen. This can lead to loose teeth and tooth loss.

What is The Link Between Gum Disease and Heart Disease?

Heart disease and strokes are more common in people with gum disease. Many experts believe there is a link.

Once in the gum tissue, bacteria can enter the bloodstream. From there, it can affect other parts of the body. A long term gum infection causes the body to release certain chemicals. It is believed that these inflammatory chemicals affect the arteries. They may help create a buildup of fat deposits and clots in the blood vessels (arteries). This buildup can then block blood flow, which could lead to a heart attack.

Many people with heart disease have healthy gums. And not everyone with gum disease will have heart problems. Other things may be involved. For example, a person may smoke or have an unhealthy diet. This could worsen their heart risk.

Gum infections have been linked to other conditions. Examples are certain respiratory conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, and problems with diabetes. These conditions may also play a role in heart disease.

Recognizing and Treating Gum Disease

Without treatment, gum disease gets worse over time. Symptoms of gum disease are:

  • Gums pulling away from the teeth
  • Swollen, red, or tender gums
  • Gums that bleed with brushing or flossing
  • Bad breath
  • Loose or missing teeth

If you notice any of these symptoms, make a dental appointment. In its earliest stages the condition can heal. This requires good dental care at home and and frequent professional cleaning. If not, a more intense professional cleaning can help. You may need to see a specialist. It depends on your situation. The dentist can do a deeper cleaning below the gum line. This will help the gum to reattach to the teeth. Worse gum disease may need surgery. Surgery helps clean the infected area and rebuild damaged bone.

More aggressive bacteria may be treated with antibiotics. They may be given as pills, mouth rinses, or gels applied to the gums. Other medicines may be used to protect the gum tissue. This can prevent periodontitis from getting worse.

What if blood vessel changes have already happened? Will treating periodontitis help prevent heart disease then? Experts are unsure. But professional care will help prevent tooth loss. And tooth loss has been linked to heart disease. The best bet is to care for your teeth and gums as advised by your dentist.

Prevention

To reduce your risk of gum disease:

  • Brush inner, outer, and chewing surfaces. Do this at least twice daily. Use a soft-bristled brush held at a 45° angle. Some people find electric brushes easier to use.
  • Floss at least once daily. Gently guide the floss between teeth. Hold floss tight and curved around each tooth. Slide the floss up and down. Use a clean section of floss for each tooth.
  • Get a professional dental cleaning every 6 months. If you have a lot of plaque or gingivitis,you may need cleanings more often.

RESOURCES

American Academy of Periodontology
https://www.perio.org
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research:
https://www.nidcr.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Public Health Agency of Canada
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

References:

Chang Y, Woo HG, et al. Improved oral hygiene care is associated with decreased risk of occurrence for atrial fibrillation and heart failure: A nationwide population-based cohort study. Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2020;27(17):1835-1845.
Coronary artery disease possible risk factors. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/prevention/cardiovascular-disease-possible-risk-factors. Accessed October 15, 2021.
Gingivitis and periodontitis in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/gingivitis-and-periodontitis-in-adults. Accessed October 15, 2021.
Gum disease and heart disease: the common thread. Harvard Health website. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/gum-disease-and-heart-disease-the-common-thread. Accessed October 15, 2021.
Gum disease. Mouth Healthy—American Dental Association website. Available at: https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/g/gum-disease. Accessed October 15, 2021.
Non-surgical periodontal treatment. American Academy of Periodontology website. Available at: https://www.perio.org/consumer/non-surgical-periodontal-treatment Accessed October 15, 2021.
Types of gum disease. American Academy of Periodontology website. Available at: https://www.perio.org/consumer/types-gum-disease.html Accessed October 15, 2021.
Last reviewed October 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 10/15/2021

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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

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