Since February is American Heart Month, now is a good time to consider how your oral health can affect your cardiovascular health. You might not think that taking care of your mouth will do your heart much good, but the connection between the two is stronger than you might think. Here’s what you need to know about the relationship between your smile and your heart – and what you can do to protect both.
What’s the Link Between Oral Health and Your Heart?
The health of your gums in particular can be a major contributing factor for cardiovascular problems. Many studies have shown that people with gum disease are two to three times more likely to experience heart attacks or strokes.
One explanation for this connection is that the bacteria involved with gum disease can enter the bloodstream, triggering inflammation in different parts of the body. Inflammation leads to hardened arteries that make it more difficult for blood to flow to the heart. Also, if the harmful bacteria reach the heart, they might cause an infection of the valves and inner lining known as endocarditis.
The connection between gum disease and heart problems is still being researched. In the meantime, if you’re worried about your heart health, you need to start giving serious thought about the care that you’re giving your gums.
How Can You Protect Your Mouth and Your Heart?
Preventing gum disease in no way guarantees that you won’t develop heart problems, but it can help you avoid a major risk factor. To protect your gums from infection, follow these simple steps:
- Pay close attention to your gumline when brushing. Plaque can build up anywhere in your mouth; you’ll want to remove it from your gums before it leads to serious issues.
- Floss at least once every day. Brushing alone won’t get rid of all the harmful bacteria that can potentially cause gum disease. Flossing is necessary for cleaning the spaces between your teeth.
- Give up using tobacco products of any kind. Tobacco can significantly increase your risk for gum disease and is known to cause heart problems. The sooner you cut it out of your daily routine, the better off your smile and body will be.
- Visit your dentist at least two times every year for routine checkups and cleanings. They can check for warning signs of gum disease and intervene if there are any concerning developments. Your routine dental visits are also a good opportunity to ask about your diet, genetics, and other factors that can play a role in gum disease.
Both oral health and heart health benefit from a proactive approach. Start taking whatever steps are necessary to ensure that your gums and heart are well cared for.
About the Author
Dr. Rebecca Long graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry. She has completed more than 600 hours of continuing education over the course of her career, and she has earned a Fellowship in the Academy of General Dentistry. At Westlake Hills Dental Arts in Austin, she provides periodontal therapy for patients suffering from gum disease. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Long, visit her website or call (512) 489-9157.