A Healthy Mouth for a Healthy Heart
A healthy mouth often also means a healthy heart. From nearly two decades, numerous research studies have been pointing towards the potential link between Oral Health and Heart Disease. Studies after study have shown that people with poor oral health (gum disease and/or tooth loss) have a higher risk of heart complications like stroke or heart attack than people with good oral health.
A study by the Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden* found that those suffering from gum disease are at greater risk for coronary artery disease and it increases the risk of a first heart attack by 28%. Studies also show that the risk for heart disease is greater if the gum disease is in a moderate or advanced stage compared to someone with healthy gums.
Oral Health in India
Oral hygiene and preventive dental care are neglected by the vast majority of the population in India. Very few (only a handful) people take oral healthcare seriously across the country. Indians dread going to the dentist because of fear and anxiety. Moreover, they only approach a dentist when faced with severe pain or a crisis, and usually only after 40 years of age. But let’s accept it, most of us lead busy lives and rarely find time to make regular appointments with a dentist. In addition, low awareness of oral hygiene, expensive dental care are the primary factors that prevent many people from getting regular dental check-ups.
Heart Disease and Poor Oral Health- What’s the Connection?
Poor oral health leads to gum disease and tooth loss. Gum disease can not only affect our overall health but over time, may increase the risk for heart disease. Several studies show that people with gum disease are more prone to coronary artery disease than people with healthy mouths. Scientists have two potential explanations for this connection.
One is the spread of bacteria (that causes gum disease) from our mouth. The bacteria travel to other parts of our body through the bloodstream (while chewing or brushing) where they may cause blood vessel damage, inflammation as well as tiny blood clots. This results in a stroke or a heart attack. The other connection is that these bacteria cause our liver to make certain proteins, which inflame our blood vessels. Eventually, this inflammation may lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Who’s at Risk of Gum Disease?
People with advanced periodontal disease or chronic gum conditions like gingivitis have the greatest risk for heart disease, especially if it remains undiagnosed and not managed properly. The bacteria associated with gum infection can travel to the bloodstream from our mouth and may get attached to the blood vessels thus increasing our risk to heart disease. Even if there is no gum inflammation, insufficient oral hygiene and plaque built up over time put us at risk for gum disease.
What are the warning signs?
Gum disease is often silent. Symptoms do not show until your gum disease reaches an advanced stage. However, warning signs of gum disease include:
- Red, swollen or tender gums that are sore to the touch.
- Bleeding while brushing or eating hard food
- Receding gums (gums pulling away from teeth) causing teeth to look longer than before
- Loose or separating teeth
- Pus between your gums and teeth
- Frequent bad breath
Regular dental checkups and a comprehensive healthy heart check-up and maintaining good oral hygiene are the best way to protect against gum disease.
Brushing: Dentists recommend brushing our teeth twice a day. The brush used should be soft-bristled. But, a lot of us do not brush our teeth well. We may also skip some days. Our technique might be old-fashioned too. Dentists recommend that we brush softly at a 45-degree angle with short, side-to-side strokes.
Floss Regularly: Proper flossing under the gum-line and between our teeth removes bacteria, plaque and food particles between the teeth – in places where a toothbrush cannot reach easily. While it is important for gum health, most of us ignore flossing. A dentist can advise how to floss. We have to be gentle while flossing. Vigorous flossing (or sawing at our gums) can make things worse.
Get teeth cleaned regularly – every six months: Regular dental check-ups and regular cleanings are vital for everyone, especially for those at risk of heart disease. Regular cleaning will keep tartar and plaque of the teeth under control. If we do develop gum disease, our dentist will catch it early. Usually, dentists recommend dental cleaning twice in a year. However, some may need cleaning more often. Dentist consultation helps in deciding the number of times we need a dental cleaning.
Quit smoking: If you smoke, it is time to make an attempt (or many attempts) to quit. Most of us know smoking is bad for our heart but very few know that smoking is one of the major causes for gum disease & smoking cessation. Apart from this, smoking also worsens existing gum disease. And… smoking can even become an impediment to the existing treatment of gum disease.
Eating Balanced Diet: Eating a well-balanced diet can reduce the risk of gum disease. While it may not cure gum disease, but a well-balanced diet provides enough calcium and vitamins in the diet that may help. Being relaxed and lowering stress levels in our lives also help lower our risk of gum and heart disease.
The Bottom Line
Poor oral health leads to gum disease and gum disease, in turn, leads to heart disease, that’s reason enough for us to do what we can to make oral health a priority. Perhaps it will turn out to have other benefits too. By being proactive about our oral health, we can not only protect ourselves from developing a connection between oral health and heart disease but also keep our smile healthy, clean and beautiful throughout our lives.
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