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The relationship between oral health and heart disease

The relationship between oral health and heart disease

If you’ve ever heard the song “Dem Bones,” you probably know that your thigh bone’s connected to your hip bone, but did you know that your mouth is connected to your heart? It’s kinda true! There’s a link between oral health and heart disease.

Research has shown that people who have poor oral health, such as gum disease or tooth loss, may have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. What’s the connection? We’re taking a deep dive into the topic below.

The link between oral health and the heart

It’s a known fact that having gum disease (also called periodontal disease) means you’re at a higher risk of cardiovascular events, including heart attack and stroke. Why, though? Researchers have been digging into that question in recent years.

There are a few theories. The first is that gum disease and heart disease aren’t connected—the conditions simply share risk factors, such as smoking, which can lead someone to develop both health issues.

Another thought is that inflammation in the body is responsible. High levels of inflammation can lead to both gum disease and heart disease, along with other health conditions.

More recent research, however, seems to indicate that there’s a more formal connection between the mouth and the heart:

  • A 2018 study analyzing data from people who experienced cardiovascular events found that there’s a correlation between tooth loss and coronary heart disease.
  • A 2021 study found an association between poor oral health and deaths related to cardiovascular disease.
  • A 2018 study found that poor oral health, defined by a person’s daily toothbrushing habits, was associated with poor heart health.

Further, bacteria can make its way from the mouth into the bloodstream, moving through blood vessels all the way to the heart. When this happens, it can cause inflammation and disease, including endocarditis.

An action plan for protecting your teeth and your heart

Taking care of your teeth and your gums can protect your heart. Adopt these oral health habits:

  • Brush your teeth. Dental plaque, which is a gooey substance containing bacteria, can lead to tooth decay and periodontal disease. Brushing your teeth twice a day protects your mouth by keeping plaque from building up.
  • Floss, too. Flossing is often neglected, but it’s essential. Even when you’re brushing your teeth regularly, you aren’t removing the plaque that’s built up between your teeth. That’s what flossing does.
  • See a dentist regularly. Regular dental checkups and cleanings play a vital role in oral healthcare. While you can brush away surface plaque and floss to remove it from between your teeth, there will be some left behind. A dental cleaning, by a dentist or dental hygienist, can help remove lingering plaque buildup. Your dentist can also check the health of your teeth and gums.
  • Don’t smoke. What does smoking have to do with healthy gums? Smoking is a risk factor for gum disease, along with many other health conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the more you smoke, the higher your risk of gum disease.

Beyond these tips, it’s also a good idea to examine your gums regularly, looking for signs of gum disease. Red or swollen gums, gums that bleed, or receding gums that seem to be pulling away from your teeth are all potential signs of periodontal disease. Persistent bad breath can also be a symptom.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, do your gums and your heart a favor by making an appointment with a dentist.

Your heart keeps your health ticking, which is why you need to keep it at its best. Learn how Touro’s heart and vascular care team can help.