Health Care

Does Regular Dental Care Lead to Heart Health?

A young girl brushes her teeth with her parents as examples
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Oral health is very important to your overall health and wellbeing. Taking care of your teeth and gums by brushing twice daily, for at least two minutes each time, could lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, according to a study by the American Heart Association.

Dental Health

Brush, brush, brush! To reduce your chances of developing dental decay, gum inflammation and infections (including abscess formation), take good care of your teeth. What does good care mean, you might be wondering? Dental specialists suggest visiting your dentist for regular cleanings every six months, in addition to brushing at least twice per day, regularly flossing, and, if applicable, making sure dentures fit properly.

Oral Hygiene Linked to the Heart

Many studies have shown a link between people who have poor oral health and those with cardiovascular problems, including heart attack or stroke. The reason for this is still continuing to be studied, but we do know that the bacteria associated to periodontal disease could be a possible answer.

Periodontal disease is a condition that presents with gum infection and inflammation, as well as tooth damage. According to the Cleveland Clinic, some studies have shown that this bacteria in the mouth can move into the bloodstream and cause an elevation in C-reactive protein.

This protein is a marker for inflammation in the blood vessels. It’s possible that rather than the bacteria being cause for the problem, your body’s immune response can set off vascular damage, through inflammation, to the heart.

By not maintaining healthy dental habits, you increase the risk of a bacterial infection, as well as inflammation, that can affect your heart valves and also increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. And that’s not to say, if you have good dental health, you won’t get heart disease, but it is definitely another good reason to stay in the habit of taking care of your teeth and gums.

Another Possibility

A cardiologist and professor of medicine emeritus at the University of California suggests, “It’s possible that people who are very attentive to their dental health are also very attentive to other aspects of their health,” meaning, maybe the correlation is just overall preventative health measures and healthy routines. And researchers at Harvard agree, saying “There may be no direct connection between gum disease and cardiovascular disease,” but instead rather another factor that’s a risk for both conditions, such as smoking.

Smoking has been proven to increase heart rate, tighten arties, raise blood pressure and increase risks of heart attack and stroke. Smoking also leads to gum disease because it weakens the body’s immune system, making it harder to fight off infection, and damages gum tissue.

In a recent study, researchers looked at more than 65,000 cardiovascular episodes, including heart attacks, in roughly a million people. They found that there was a relationship between male smokers with poor oral health and coronary heart disease risks, but when looking at non-smokers in the study, there was not link found between the two for men. This suggests that many cases of patients with both dental and cardiovascular issues could be tied to smoking.

Precautions Prior to Dental Treatment

The American Heart Association and the American Dental Association recommend certain people receive antibiotics before dental treatment. Those with cardiovascular disease should always let their dentist know of their complete medical history, including current drugs and dosages, so they can help guide you through pre-treatment precautions, but anyone in the following categories should consider antibiotics:

  • Have or had endocarditis
  • Have an artificial cardiac valve
  • Have congenital heart disease
  • Treated for cardiac valve disease

Keep in mind, antibiotics for cardiovascular patients are not recommended for all dental procedures, and generally not considered for:

  • Adjustment or placement of orthodontic brackets
  • Bleeding in/around the lips or mouth
  • Dental x-rays
  • Routine anesthetic

Protecting Your Heart Health

While the connection between healthy dental habits reducing the risk of heart disease still requires further research by specialists to gain a better understanding, we know it doesn’t hurt to practice an overall healthy lifestyle — which includes your oral care routines.

For more information on heart and vascular care at AdventHealth, including preventive measures to lower your risk of developing heart disease, click here.

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