February is Heart Month and your oral health matters. Did you know that there is evidence indicating that your oral health is intricately intertwined with the health of your entire body is mounting. Multiple studies have shown a strong association between gum disease and heart disease.
Your teeth are embedded in your gums. If your gums become infected, the bacteria could enter your bloodstream and spread to your heart. The infection also triggers inflammation.
Keeping your teeth in good shape is simple. Brush and floss every day and visit the dentist twice a year. You can’t change your genetics and you can’t protect against every possible problem, but you can do a lot. Lisa Nelson, a Registered Dietician, breaks it all down for us.
When you eat, you fill your mouth with food particles. Most of it goes down your throat to be digested but stray particles linger in the crevices between your teeth and your gums. Harmful bacteria thrive on the sugar and bits of food left behind.
Brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash can all help shield your teeth. If you miss a spot, however, the bacteria can grow until eventually your gums or even the tooth itself become infected. Once the infection hits your bloodstream, it can travel throughout your body.
To beat the infection, your body mounts an autoimmune response. What’s your body’s biggest weapon? Inflammation. When you’re injured, white blood cells stream into the area to eradicate dead and foreign cells. Inflammation is a serious health problem.
Endocarditis is a rare but potentially fatal complication of untreated cavities. As the tooth rots and your gums become infected, bacteria enter your blood and spreads to your heart’s inner lining. Once that happens, the organ will no longer function properly.
The best way to avoid endocarditis is to keep your gums infection-free. Dr. Jason Lane at Lane Family Dental in Wasilla, AK remarks that: “While we are certainly equipped to handle any dental situation that comes our way, we prefer to keep your teeth and gums healthy so you don’t have to deal with those problems to begin with.”
Preventive care is a huge part of keeping your teeth healthy.
Multiple peer-reviewed studies have found that neglecting your oral hygiene can be very detrimental for your cardiovascular health. A recent study looked at the bacteria in subjects’ mouths.
Over 650 middle-aged and senior New Yorkers were examined. Each participant was in good health and had never suffered from a cardiac event.
Researchers tracked their brushing and flossing habits as well as their propensities toward physical exercise and smoking. The bacteria in their mouths was studied. Because there are so many different bacteria species living in your mouth, the study authors looked at three specific types. A species known to cause gum disease, a species that might cause gum disease, and a species with no connection to gum disease.
Study participants with high amounts of the gum disease-causing bacteria had thicker carotid arteries as well. The measurements can be used to determine if the patient has atherosclerosis, a condition characterized by the narrowing and toughening of the arteries.
Prevention might be possible. If you’re diligent about following an oral health routine, you can protect your teeth from harmful bacteria. However, it’s very important that you don’t slack off. Brush your teeth twice a day and see the dentist twice a year.
Don’t ignore dental problems. The pain in an aching tooth may go away, but that doesn’t mean that the problem does. Generally, a problem with your teeth or gums won’t resolve on its own.
Who’s at Risk?
People suffering from gum disease are at risk of developing heart disease. Dental hygiene becomes important the moment your first tooth sprouts.
Here are the signs that something is wrong:
- Loose teeth
- Swollen gums
- Bleeding gums
- Noticeable pus
If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s time to schedule an appointment with a professional. It’s possible that an infection has already set in and you need antibiotics. Or you might need to have a tooth pulled. Your dentist will be able to figure out what treatment method would work best.
Infected gums might lead to heart problems. The research isn’t decisive but it’s extremely suggestive. People who suffer from gum disease are more likely to have cardiovascular problems.
The good news is that you’re not helpless. Gum disease can be caused by factors outside your control, like certain medications, but even then, brushing your teeth and using mouthwash would be beneficial. There will never be a day where it makes sense NOT to brush your teeth.