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A healthy mouth leads to a healthy heart

Did you know that sticks and stones may break our bones, but not brushing or flossing our teeth may harm our hearts? Although this is a slight deviation from the original saying, they are nonetheless wise words that we should take to heart.

Research has shown that people with poor oral hygiene and gum disease are more than twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease. But how does what’s happening in our mouth affect our heart’s health? After all, dental plaque is not the same as atherosclerosis—fatty plaque buildup within arterial walls that block the flow of blood.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need to Know about Oral Hygiene and Our Hearts:

The heart mouth connection

Here’s a frightening fact to even ponder: our mouths contain more than 700 types of bacteria. This number rivals that of a public toilet (I apologize for the terrible visual, but I wanted to prove a point). When we have gum disease or an infection, these bacteria have an opportunity to enter into the bloodstream and travel to our heart vessels. Clumped bacteria can become the concrete foundation upon which fatty plaques build upon. Additionally, gum disease and oral infection can trigger inflammation throughout the body and increase the risk of clot formation that can also block blood flow.

How does our oral health compare to other indicators of heart disease?

Poor mouth health has been shown in studies to be as good at predicting heart disease as cholesterol levels. Oftentimes, we do not have symptoms of high cholesterol or their consequence—plaque buildup inside our arteries—until we have a false alarm, or worse, a heart attack.

Does taking care of our mouth also have benefits on other aspects of our health?

Yes. Gum disease in pregnant women has been linked to premature births and low birth weight. Therefore, optimal prenatal care is not limited to just taking vitamins and eating healthy. Pregnant women should also see their dentists.

Additionally, diabetics have a decreased resistance to infection and have been shown to have more frequent and severe gum disease than non-diabetics. This is a Catch-22 because gum disease also results in fluctuating and difficult to control blood sugar levels.

What’s the big deal?

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Americans and kills almost 600,000 people a year. Along with eating healthy, exercising, and not smoking, maintaining good oral hygiene can help keep our ticker ticking. A little prevention can go a long way. And if the artery-clogging process has already begun, we can slow the rate at which it progresses.

How do we take good care of our teeth and gums?

• Brush our teeth as well as our gum line for 2-3 minutes, twice a day, with fluoridated toothpaste.

• Floss daily to dislodge plaque from in between our teeth where our toothbrush cannot reach.

• Gargle with a mouth rinse.

• Replace our toothbrush every 3-4 months or sooner if the bristles are frayed.

• Avoid cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.

• Schedule regular dental checkups. If an oral health problem arises, contact our dentist before it gets out of control.

Similar to the MasterCard commercials: Toothbrush $2, floss $3, toothpaste $4, electrocardiogram $150, preventing a heart attack priceless.

Maintaining good oral hygiene does not mean we can excuse ourselves from eating healthy, exercising, undergoing routine screening, or quitting smoking. But it comes at a small price for a potentially priceless gain. Now that’s what I call value.

This information is for educational purposes and should not be considered specific medical advice. Always consult with a qualified medical professional regarding your individual circumstances.

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing wise preventive health measures. Contact her on Facebook or Twitter @drninaradcliff.

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