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Take Heart Articles
What your teeth may be telling you.
03/29/2006
The tooth fairy has just put all adults on notice. If you lose a tooth because of gum disease, you may have heart disease.

What’s the connection between your mouth and your heart? Researchers at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health have found a possible link that shows individuals with periodontal disease are far more likely to have atherosclerosis, a build-up of fatty plaque in arteries.

In the study of middle aged and older people, there was a measurable association between tooth loss, severe oral infections and cardiovascular disease. “The relationship between dental health and your heart is not totally clear; however, there is a substantial understanding that people with chronic oral infections, such as periodontitis, are at greater risk of heart disease and stroke,” confirms Dr. James Curtis with the Palmetto Health Dental Center.

Periodontitis is a dental disorder that results in the infection of the ligaments and bones of one’s teeth, due to growth of bacteria. Poor oral health habits, such as not brushing or flossing, are the cause.

Researchers have found that these poor habits, along with an unhealthy diet, smoking and physical inactivity, make a person more susceptible to chronic oral health infections and, possibly, cardiovascular disease.

Though additional research is being done to confirm the link between dental and heart health, the American Academy of Periodontology reports that bacteria that grows around teeth can circulate through the blood stream and attach to fatty plaques in the heart’s blood vessels, possibly causing damage in the form of blood clots. When fatty proteins build up along coronary walls, the heart does not receive adequate oxygen and nutrients. This can lead to heart attack or stroke.

Some have questioned the findings of the University of Minnesota study, pointing out that many of the participants were smokers. Yet a large group of nonsmokers exhibited the same connection between periodontal disease and heart disease.

Even with these preliminary findings—and they are preliminary—Dr. Curtis suggests all adults take the necessary steps to prevent periodontal disease. This includes regular brushing, flossing and a professional dental evaluation at least once a year. If you are diagnosed with a chronic oral infection, follow your dentist’s recommendations.

Dr. Curtis says that taking action is the first step in maintaining a healthy mouth and a healthy heart. “Brushing and flossing daily disrupts the growth of bad bacteria which, in turn, reduces the incidence of periodontal disease.”

Other tips for improving one’s dental health sound surprisingly familiar. “Many of the things that contribute to a healthy mouth also contribute to a healthy heart,” Dr. Curtis says. “Good nutrition, exercise, not smoking; these are the universal truths for good oral health and your overall health, as well.”

If you have a healthy mouth, is your risk of heart disease lower? “This is a question yet to be answered,” says Dr.Curtis. “Until it is, keep brushing.”