What is the Connection Between Oral Care and Heart Disease?

by Melissa Chichester

Most of us probably practice an oral hygiene routine on a daily basis without really thinking about it.

Brush, floss, repeat, right? If that’s part of your daily routine, great! But have you ever stopped to think about how your oral care habits impact the rest of your health? For several years, researchers have been exploring how the health of your gums provides clues on other facets of your health, including the cardiovascular system and heart health. While original studies were not able to make a conclusive claim that supports periodontal disease influencing heart disease, doctors and researchers continue to explore this relationship.

What is the link between periodontal disease and heart disease?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, an academic hospital in Ohio, “Some studies have shown that bacteria in the mouth that are involved in the development of periodontal disease can move into the bloodstream and cause an elevation in C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation in the blood vessels.” This inflammation is also present in heart disease and stroke patients; however, this tidbit isn’t enough for experts to agree on the strength of this correlation. The American Heart Association agrees that while there is no compelling evidence to support the connection there are links between the two, due to similar risk factors that are present in periodontal disease and heart disease, one of which being the thickness of blood vessels in the neck.

Periodontal disease and heart disease also share similar risk factors, including smoking and diabetes.

As this relationship is further explored, the health community does agree that oral health contributes to overall health and well-being.

Periodontal disease statistics

Oral health problems are some of the most predominant health challenges affecting Americans today. Periodontal disease is an inflammatory condition that affects the gums and bones supporting the teeth. It is also the number one cause of tooth loss in the United States in adults. The good news is that the number of people with periodontal disease has declined since the 1970s, but according to the CDC, half of Americans aged 30 and older have some form of periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease is often present in conjunction with other health issues, and it is more present in men compared to women.

Gingivitis is the earliest stage of periodontal disease, and signs include bleeding gums, red gums, and swollen gums.

Healthy oral hygiene habits

A proper oral hygiene routine can assist in maintaining clean teeth, healthy gums, and can help lessen the risk of problems like gum inflammation, plaque buildup, infections, and tooth decay. Basic guidelines for oral care include:

  • Replace your toothbrush every three months
  • Brushing your teeth at least twice daily
  • Flossing daily or several times per week
  • Practice tongue scraping
  • Schedule bi-annual teeth cleanings with x-rays
  • Visit your dentist more often as directed

Tips for individuals with sensitive teeth

There are other steps you can take to keep your mouth healthy. For example, individuals with sensitive teeth may have different needs than someone who doesn’t. People who have sensitive teeth may have to take more precautions to avoid pain while brushing and flossing.

Symptoms of sensitivity include pain while drinking hot or cold beverages, and pain while flossing or eating.

Because enamel doesn’t contain cells, as it erodes it cannot be built back up, but the area can be protected. After ruling out serious problems by working with a dentist, people with sensitive teeth can take several steps to maintain a glowing smile:

  • Avoid acidic foods and drinks, like sports drinks and many fruits
  • Use a toothpaste for sensitive teeth
  • Stop grinding teeth
  • Use a soft toothbrush
  • Brush with gentle strokes
  • Avoid whitening products