Eyes may be the window to the soul but oral health could be a mirror to your overall well-being. Recent studies are only just beginning to scratch the surface on links between the health of your mouth, gums and teeth to other ailments, including heart disease. Although further studies are needed, the general consensus among experts is that there are credible reasons why clean teeth may lead to a healthier heart.
How is oral health linked to heart disease?
Everyone has bacteria in their mouth, which feed off the food and drink we eat. The bacteria produce plaque, a sticky substance which adheres to teeth and gums, the chemical by-products of which cause dental cavities. Because plaque is sticky, bacteria can cling to it more easily than the smooth surface of a clean tooth.
If the plaque isn’t removed it eventually hardens, forming a calculus deposit called tartar on the teeth. This cannot be removed with a toothbrush but only by a dentist or dental hygienist with special hand instruments or ultrasound.
If the tartar isn’t removed the bacteria build up on the surface, irritate the gums, leading to inflammation, and possible bleeding. This is the first sign of gum disease – gingivitis – and it is believed this inflammation may play an important role in the build-up of clogged arteries.
One study at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health shows that build-up of bacteria in the mouth and bleeding gums can cause clots in arteries which may lead to heart disease. The research found that thickening of the arteries progressed with the gum disease and the amount of bacteria in the gums. Perhaps more importantly, the study also found that reduction of bacteria in the mouth linked to gum disease also caused a reduction in the thickening of the arteries.
Another report found that in over 22,000 adults aged over 50, those who had professional tooth scaling or deep cleaning at their dentist or dental hygienist in the past year, were less likely to suffer stroke or heart attack over the next seven years.
While there are still ongoing studies and no definitive conclusion has yet been reached on whether poor oral health actually causes heart disease, there are definite links between gum disease and heart disease.
What is Gum Disease?
In almost all of the research linking oral health to heart disease it is the prevalence of gum disease that is the major concern. It is estimated that in the UK more than half the adult population have some form of gum disease, with up to 15% affected with severe periodontitis. The problem with gum disease is that it evolves slowly, with very little in the way of symptoms, so it can develop to quite a progressed stage before you may be aware you have it, especially if you don’t visit a dentist regularly. Usually, at the point you have a tooth infection, or tooth loss, is the full extent it becomes apparent. By this stage the disease has usually advanced from gingivitis (the first stage of the disease) to periodontitis (the point at which the soft tissue and bone around the teeth has been damaged).
The good news is that you can prevent gum disease – and even reverse it – or at least prevent it from getting any worse. If, at the first tell-tale signs of the disease – such as blood on your toothbrush – you haven’t been to a dentist, it is worth making an appointment to get the problem rectified before it progresses.
How do I prevent gum disease?
Establishing a routine for good oral health habits will go a long way in preventing gum disease. It doesn’t even take a lot of time or effort, but brushing your teeth for at least two minutes, twice daily, and using dental floss to clean in between the teeth to dislodge trapped food particles is a basic care routine you should carry out every day.
- Brush Effectively
Use small gentle, circular motions to clean the teeth, rather than back-and-forth sawing movements which may damage your gums. Clean every surface of the tooth – front and back, and down into the gum line. Your brush should be at a 45 degree angle to your teeth.
Dental floss should be used to clean in between the teeth and under the gum line. Gently move the floss up and down each side of each tooth a few times. If you find dental floss difficult to use, you may find the interdental sticks or brushes easier to use. They come in different sizes to fit between the smallest and largest gaps in your teeth.
- Antibacterial Mouthwash
There are scores of different antibacterial mouthwashes you can use in addition to, not instead of, brushing and flossing, which also help to keep your breath fresh as well as your mouth clean.
- Chew Sugar-Free Gum
Saliva contains anti-bacterial properties and chewing sugar-free gum will increase saliva production to combat those nasty bacteria.
- Visit a dentist regularly
Your dentist will be able to spot potential problems before you do, and if you are prone to gum disease you should have regular deep cleaning, scaling and polishing to keep the surfaces of your teeth clean and shiny to prevent plaque and tartar build up.
Don’t let poor oral health put you at risk. Isn’t a few minutes of brushing and flossing every day worth it for sparkling teeth and fresh breath, as well as preventing heart disease?
[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=””]Amanda Duffy is an expert in the field of dental tourism and has been writing on the subject for a number of years. She is currently a key figure in the editorial team at Dental Departures, a company specializing in dental tourism that help patients save money on their dental care by matching them up with the right clinic.[/thrive_text_block]