Can Cleaning Your Teeth Prevent Cardiovascular Disease?
In recent years, there has been considerable coverage in the media concerning poor oral health and cardiovascular (heart) disease, with a growing body of evidence confirming an association between these two conditions.
While the jury may still be out on exactly how these conditions are connected, it is important for people to be aware that there is a link, and to take steps to get both their oral health and heart health under control. Improving your oral health and making lifestyle changes to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease can have significant positive benefits on your overall health.
While the main media focus has generally been on how poor oral health can affect heart disease, it’s also important to be aware that heart disease can also have a negative impact on oral health. Many of the medications used to manage heart disease can affect the mouth, so maintaining strict oral hygiene practices are essential.
Evidence linking poor oral health and heart disease first came to light nearly 30 years ago, and since then many studies have confirmed the association. Initial studies looked at individuals with and without periodontal (gum) disease and the incidence of cardiovascular disease, and found that those with periodontal disease were more likely to also suffer from cardiovascular problems. Subsequent larger studies following individuals over extended periods of time demonstrated a statistically significant increased risk for heart disease in individuals with gum disease.
While the exact cause is yet to be identified, it is thought that the bacteria associated with gum disease may enter the blood stream and work their way into atherosclerotic plaques, contributing to occlusion (blockage) of blood vessels. These same bacteria can also induce a systemic inflammation, which can encourage atheroma formation, more commonly known as ‘hardening of the arteries’.
As with anything related to health, prevention is always better than a cure, so aiming to maintain optimal oral health is the first step in preventing oral health disease and the possible health implications that may go along with it, including cardiovascular disease.
Good preventive practices to help minimise the development of oral health disease include thorough brushing at least twice a day, effective flossing daily, using a quality mouth wash, and seeing your oral health professional regularly. Regular dental check-ups can ensure any initial signs of the development of disease are identified and treated as early as possible.
It’s important to let your oral health professional know if you suffer from cardiovascular problems, and what medications you’re taking. And it is crucial to advise them if you’ve had a recent heart attack, as this can limit the procedures your oral health professional is able to perform in the short term.
Some of the medications used to control hypertension and angina (calcium channel blocking drugs) can cause gums to become inflamed and swollen, so good oral hygiene practices can be literally life-saving for people using these drugs. Blood thinners can also have a negative impact on the gums, and require some dental procedures to be carried out differently, so making sure your oral health professional has your complete medical history is very important.
While researchers continue to attempt to unravel the association between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease, it is clear at this point that if you do not have gum disease then your risk of developing heart disease is significantly reduced. So yes, while it may seem like a leap, maintaining a good oral hygiene routine of regular brushing, flossing, rinsing and regular check ups can in fact prevent your risk of heart disease.
As featured in The Adelaide Advertiser– 14 August 2017