Robert J. Schwab, M.D.
Boys Town Internal Medicine
According to the American Heart Association, more than 70 million Americans live with some form of heart disease. The Center for Disease Control states that heart disease is still the leading cause of death for both men and women. So, if there was more you could do to prevent your chance of getting heart disease, wouldn’t you try it? Research suggests that good oral hygiene can impact your overall health, including the health of your heart.
Bacteria live everywhere, so it is no surprise to find germs in our mouth. That’s why we brush and floss our teeth, every day. Bacteria are also flushed away by our own cleansing mechanism, saliva, during the day. That’s why your dentist suggests you drink your sugary beverages in one setting instead of lingering them throughout the day (so your saliva can wash it away).
For those with poor oral hygiene, gingivitis or periodontitis (an infection that erodes the tissue and bone that support the teeth), the bacteria that normally would be flushed away through brushing or chewing, can actually enter the bloodstream through the devastated gums. Some of these bacteria have even been found in cholesterol plaques that form in the walls of coronary arteries, leading researchers to speculate that the bacteria may attach to the arterial wall, causing inflammation and contributing to cholesterol blockages. These blockages can eventually lead to poor blood flow to the heart muscle and even heart attacks. The American Academy of Periodontology states that people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease than those without the disease.
Dentists may be the first to notice a situation that may require medical attention, just through a simple dental examination. The beginning stages of Osteoporosis, certain cancers, eating disorder and other diseases may show their first signs through bad breath and unhealthy gums and teeth.
Healthy teeth and gums may one day be linked to preventing coronary artery disease (cholesterol buildup in the arteries), but there are several other things you can do now, that are proven to help you keep a healthy heart:
- If you smoke, STOP.
- Keep your blood pressure down, even if it takes a prescription from your physician.
- Maintain good cholesterol levels with routine visits and medication if needed.
- Avoid diabetes by exercising and eating right.
- If you are overweight, get started on a plan to lose it.
And, if you have put off going to your routine dental exam, you may want to reconsider. You may be protecting more than just your gums and teeth.
Consult with your physician or dentist if you notice:
- Red, swollen or bleeding gums
- Gums that are pulling away from the teeth
- Changes in the color of your tooth enamel
- Sensitivity to hot or cold
- Loose teeth