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Gumming up the works

How taking care of your mouth can protect your heart

The number one killer in the United States has a new foe: dental floss. Coronary heart disease contributes to the deaths of 2,400 Americans a day.1 But your cardiologist and your dentist have more reasons than ever to join forces to fight it. Recent studies have drawn the strongest connections yet between your gums and your ticker — and show that taking care of one can protect the other. Here’s why.

Your heart in your mouth?

Doctors have long understood that oral health and heart health are somehow connected. Studies have shown that people with poor oral health also generally have poor heart health. The bigger question has been whether this just reflects poor overall health, or is it a cause-effect relationship?

For the first time, a study has drawn a direct connection. Researchers found that treating even mild gum disease in otherwise healthy people actually reduces thickening of the blood vessel wall commonly seen in heart disease.2 That means that taking care of your gums has a direct effect on your heart health and can actually slow and even reduce the development of heart disease. Since it’s estimated that 75% of Americans have some form of periodontal disease, this can impact a lot of people.3

Additionally, this study, along with a variety of similar findings, has led to new clinical guidelines that encourage cardiologists and periodontists to work together to diagnose and combat cardiovascular disease.4 

Oral arguments: the connection between your heart and gums


So how exactly are your heart health and mouth health connected? That’s been one of the more elusive questions for researchers, but there are three main ideas:

  • Bacteria. When gums are damaged or in poor shape, bacteria from the mouth may enter the bloodstream. This bacteria has the potential to attach to fatty deposits in the blood vessels, increasing inflammation and possibly releasing toxins that can accelerate cell deterioration.
  • Inflammation. Chronic inflammation is your body’s enemy. Studies suggest that the chronic inflammation associated with gum disease can make inflammation in other parts of your body worse. This increases overall risk for coronary artery disease and can make existing cardiovascular problems worse.
  • Thickening of blood vessel walls. New research shows a strong link between the bacteria found in dental plaque and the thickening of blood vessel walls. Thickened blood vessel walls can raise blood pressure and, if bad enough, blockages that can lead to heart attacks.

Your best interest at heart


Studies such as these represent important developments in doctors’ understanding of the body’s overall health — and how the health of one system can affect and reflect another. The good news from this study offers new ways to boost your heart health and the wattage of your smile. Floss and brush regularly, and see your dentist twice a year for regular checkups and cleanings. It’s another way to have your body’s best interest at heart.

 


1American Heart Association, 2009.
2Piconi, Stefania, et al., “Treatment of periodontal disease results in improvements in endothelial dysfunction and reduction of the carotid intima-media thickness.” The FASEB Journal, December 2008.
3American Dental Association, 2009.
4The paper recommending new clinical guidelines and officially confirming the connection between oral and heart health was co-published in December 2008 by two prominent journals: the American Journal of Cardiology and the Journal of Periodontology.

GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention welcomes the opportunity to share this general information. However, this article is not intended to be relied upon as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.