Did you know your oral health is directly related to your heart health? It is. Here’s how brushing your teeth, and getting regular checkups, could reduce your risk for heart-related illness or disease.

The Link and Why It Matters

Studies have shown that people with moderate or advanced gum disease are more likely to have a heart problem than those with health gums. Heart disease is the most common type of heart problem correlated with gum disease.

Oral health studies also show that oral health can provide early warning signs for other diseases or conditions. This squares with what many dentists, like Terry Gomez DDS, experience in practice.

Poor oral hygiene also naturally leads to oral health problems like tooth decay, gum disease, and gingivitis. The most likely explanation for oral health impacting heart health is that bacteria that cause gum disease can reach the heart traveling through the bloodstream.

Patients that have severe gum disease are more likely to suffer from bacterial infections within the heart, in the mouth, which can lead to endocarditis.

Endocarditis is a bacterial infection of the inner heart tissue – the tissue that lined the inside of the heart, including the heart valves.

It can lead to permanent damage of the heart valves which impairs the heart’s ability to pump blood.

Arterial inflammation and cardiovascular disease is another problem people suffer from when they have poor oral hygiene. Oral bacteria are also linked to inflammation and cardiovascular disease. Arterial inflammation is basically a swelling of the arterial tissue. As the tissue swells, the arteries narrow, and this reduces blood flow.

Arteries that feed the heart muscle become inflamed and this can cause a heart attack.

If you have severe gum disease, you are at a greater risk for a heart attack.

How To Protect Yourself

You can protect yourself with some very simple preventative measures. First of all, make sure you’re brushing every day. Floss every day. Flossing is one of the best ways to prevent gum disease. Floss at least once a day, every day. In some ways, flossing is more important than brushing, because flossing removes plaque and buildup before it has a chance to harden.

Brushing should be done twice daily. See your dentist for periodic checkups and cleanings. While you don’t need to use an antiseptic mouthwash every day (it disrupts your natural oral bacteria), it can be helpful if you already have oral health issues.

Risk Factors You Should Know About

Many of the risk factors for gum disease are the same as for heart disease. For example, smoking, or other tobacco use, poor nutrition, diabetes, are all risk factors for developing gum disease and heart disease.

Overall, people who suffer from chronic gum disease are at a much higher risk for heart attack, according to the Academy of General Dentistry. Some researchers have also suggested that gum disease may contribute to heart disease because bacteria from infected gums can dislodge and enter the bloodstream. Once this happens, they attach to blood vessels, increase clot formation, and then may later significantly contribute to, or cause, heart failure.

To reduce the risk of this happening, it’s important to maintain good oral hygiene, but it’s also important to increase your intake of fat soluble vitamins, like vitamin A, D, E, and other nutrients like folate and magnesium. In fact, a nutrient-rich diet is generally protective of the heart. So, rather than focus on one specific vitamin or mineral, focus on changing your overall diet, including lots of dark, green, leafy vegetables, organ means, butter or full-fat dairy if you tolerate it, and nuts and legumes.

Avoid processed foods, refined sugar, and other nutritionally dead foodstuffs.

Warning Signs

If you have red or tender, swollen, gums, this is a sign you need to see your dentist right away. This could be a symptom of a more serious problem. Swollen gums are a sign of inflammation. Bleeding gums is a sign of gum disease.

If your gums bleed while you brush, this is especially serious. Chronic bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth are also signs of illness or bacterial overgrowth. Teeth that are loose, separating, or that feel as though they might fall out indicate a gum recession problem, gum disease, or other oral problems that need to be addressed right away.
Unbelievably, gum disease affects 80 percent of Americans and often goes undiagnosed.

Regular dental exams can help reduce the risk of developing gum disease, and remove bacteria, plaque, tartar, and detect early signs of gum disease. But, you have to go. Plan on making a trip to the dentist for a cleaning at least once a year. If you haven’t been in awhile, you should go twice a year until your dentist says it’s OK to skip a semi-annual visit.

Dr. Terry Gomez, DDS was raised in the Albuquerque, NM area, where she attended St. Pius X High School and the University of New Mexico. She later graduated from the University of Colorado School of Dentistry with high honors. Dr. Gomez gained experience in 1997 during her general practice residency at Denver General Hospital, and in 1998 she became Chief Dental Resident at the University Hospital in Denver. With a focus on general dentistry, Dr. Gomez strives to provide education and take the time with every patient to help them make informed decisions about their oral health. She was recognized for achieving that goal in Albuquerque The Magazine when local Albuquerque dentists voted her the “TOP GENERAL DENTIST”.

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