Will keeping your teeth and gums clean prevent heart disease? There seem to be some links between oral health and heart health, but according to the American Heart Association's journal Circulation, the evidence does not support a causal relationship. Regardless of whether good oral care can prevent heart disease, though, you should pay attention to your teeth -- after all, periodontal disease is no laughing matter.
Gum disease begins when a sticky film called plaque accumulates on the teeth. If you don't remove it by brushing and flossing, the buildup leads to an inflammatory process called gingivitis. This condition causes the gums to swell and bleed. Plaque eventually hardens into tartar, which only a qualified professional can adequately remove. Left unchecked, excess tartar buildup leads to periodontal disease.
With periodontal disease (also known as gum disease), the bacteria that contribute to tartar destroy both the gum and underlying bone. These same microbes may travel through the bloodstream to infect the heart and other organs. Gum disease may also contribute to or exacerbate such chronic diseases as stroke and diabetes.
Possible Oral-Health Links to Heart Disease
A number of reports exist that explore the relationship between oral and cardiovascular health. For example, one looks at how oral bacteria migrate by attaching "to scavenging immune cells with long, fingerlike projections called fimbria." No matter how the bacteria from the mouth are transported to the heart, the best approach is to prevent them from entering in the first place.
It is also believed that inflamed gums contribute to clogged arteries. The most common form of disease associated with gum disease is endocarditis, as explained by the National Institutes of Health. Caused by a variety of factors, including bacterial infection, endocarditis is an inflammation of the inner lining of the heart's valves and chambers. Over time, the same bacteria-caused inflammation in gum disease is believed to occur in the heart, especially its valves. Weakening valves make the heart work harder to compensate, and eventually, a person may need valve replacement surgery as a result.
Preventing gum disease is relatively inexpensive and practically risk-free. Such resources as brushes, floss, and access to professional hygienic care are readily available. Generally, awareness of gum disease and its prevention starts at an early age throughout society, but this doesn't always get people to take their oral care seriously.
It's dangerous to ignore oral health because the onset of gum disease is not always apparent and significant damage can occur before you realize it's there. Thus, prevention is critical, and regular brushing, flossing, and professional dental cleanings are a big part of the solution. Those who use tobacco will also benefit in terms of oral health if they quit.
Heart disease is preventable as well (though family history is a factor), but it requires taking care of many facets of your health, including your diet, smoking and alcohol consumption, and lifestyle choices such as exercise frequency and regular amounts of sleep. If people keep an eye on their overall health throughout their lives, they stand the best chance of avoiding heart disease. Everyone can work on living a healthier lifestyle, and with so many factors playing a part in heart disease, it's best to focus on your health from an all-encompassing perspective.
While oral health seems like just one facet of overall health, it's no less important than any other area. It's not set in stone that oral and heart health are inextricably linked, but they should still both be constant considerations. If you practice good oral upkeep and take care of your body, you're on the right path to a long, healthy life. Practice consistent, simple measures to keep health top of mind.