Yes, oral health impacts your heart health. Bad teeth can cause heart problems and gum disease may lead to cardiovascular disease. Lack of dental care (e.g., not brushing your teeth) could even result in higher cholesterol.
Let’s break all that down and dig into the science.
What the Science Says
Poor oral health is associated with poor heart health. In the past 15 years or so, scientific studies have caught up with that reality.
More commonly, gum disease can increase your risk of heart disease. Gum disease, or periodontal disease, occurs when dental plaque (that sticky film on your teeth) builds up under your gum line. Gingivitis is an early form of periodontal disease.
The American Heart Association found that individuals with advanced gum disease may be 2 times more likely to suffer from high blood pressure.
According to Harvard Medical School, people with gum disease are up to 3 times more likely to have heart attacks, strokes, or other cardiovascular issues.
There may not be a direct association in every person. Many with cardiovascular disease have healthy gums, and many with periodontal disease don’t develop heart problems. Risk factors of both gum disease and heart problems, like smoking, stress, and unhealthy diet, may explain the correlation.
But more and more healthcare professionals and researchers believe that gum disease is an independent risk factor for heart disease.
What is the connection between tooth decay and heart disease? Although not always connected, untreated tooth decay may lead to heart disease. The causes of tooth decay can also cause gum disease, which puts you at higher risk of heart disease.
Periodontal Disease & Inflammation
Periodontal disease increases inflammation in the body. Short-term inflammation is important for immune function, but the body is not designed to withstand long-term inflammation.
Long-term (chronic) inflammation is a risk factor for a lot of heart health conditions, including atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, low blood flow, endocarditis, and other cardiovascular disorders.
Chronic inflammation also leads to overall health issues, like obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and certain cancers.
This recent study concludes that “treatment of periodontitis is likely to contribute importantly to reduction of residual inflammatory risk.” You can still take care of your oral health and make a difference in your whole-body health.
What Excess Plaque Might Mean for Your Heart
Excess plaque on your tooth surface getting underneath your gum line has been linked to excess plaque in your blood vessels, which puts you at increased risk for cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Remember, however, that dental plaque and arterial plaque are completely different.
Even though the plaques are different, they are positively correlated. People with severe gum disease are much more likely to experience heart disease. Good oral hygiene has even more benefits than you thought!
Learn more about the all-important connection between dental health and whole-body health in this book by Dr. Gerald Curatola full of actionable steps to take control of your wellness: The Mouth-Body Connection.
Signs of Gum Disease
The signs of gum disease include:
- Swollen or tender gums
- Bleeding gums
- Receding gums
- Pus in gums
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Bad taste that won’t go away
- Brown buildup under gum line
- Loose teeth
- Crooked teeth
- Tooth loss
- Changes to bite
If you’re experiencing gum disease symptoms, you should see a dental professional right away. A qualified dentist can help you recover your gum health, which will likely decrease your risk for heart disease.
How do you know if your teeth are affecting your heart? It’s hard to tell if your teeth are affecting your heart until it’s too late. Not everyone with gum disease has heart problems, but gum disease does increase your chances of heart health issues.
Risk factors for gum disease:
- Poor oral hygiene
- Skipping dental cleanings
- Crooked teeth
- Defective dental work
- Chronic stress
- Dry mouth
- Hormonal changes, such as during pregnancy
- Family history of poor oral health
Risk factors for heart disease:
- Gum disease
- Poor diet (including trans fats, excess sodium, added sugar, etc.)
- Lack of regular exercise
- Chronic stress
- Older age
- Male gender
- High blood pressure
- High LDL cholesterol
- Secondhand smoke exposure
- Medical history of heart disease
- Family history of heart disease
How to Prevent Gum Disease (and Possibly Heart Disease)
Top authorities on both gum disease and heart disease are finding more and more evidence that treating and preventing tooth decay and gum disease may delay or prevent heart disease events. One more reason that oral care is vital.
How can I prevent my teeth from affecting my heart? Improving your oral health lowers risk of heart disease. Here are 8 easy ways to prevent gum disease, thus lowering your risk for heart disease:
- Brush your teeth twice daily, using gentle circles angled towards your gum line.
- Floss interdental plaque that a toothbrush can’t quite reach.
- Use a healthy toothpaste. Fluoride toothpaste remineralizes teeth, but it can also cause systemic health issues in certain individuals, especially if swallowed. Try a non-fluoride toothpaste that promotes healthy teeth and a balanced oral microbiome.
- Rinse out your mouth, after brushing, with a non-alcohol-based mouth rinse, such as essential oils, coconut oil pulling, or simply water. Alcohol-based mouthwashes dry out your mouth and can kill beneficial oral bacteria in your oral microbiome.
- Regularly visit your dentist for twice-yearly checkups and cleanings. Dentists can identify gum disease earlier than the average patient. Schedule an appointment today!
- Quit smoking, which ruins your oral health in multiple ways. Good oral health doesn’t include tobacco or vaping.
- Limit alcohol consumption. Too much alcohol can dry out the mouth, and dry mouth allows harmful bacteria (like in dental plaque) to grow more rapidly.
- Eat a healthy diet. Avoid sugars and carbs which feed the bad bacteria on your teeth, and focus on healthy fats, minerals like calcium or potassium, vitamins D or K, and non-processed foods with lower levels of processed sodium.
- Jevon, P., Abdelrahman, A., & Pigadas, N. (2020). Management of odontogenic infections and sepsis: an update. British dental journal, 229(6), 363-370. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7517749/
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