Our mouths are associated with kissing, saying “I love you,” and a lot of other things that show we’ve got heart. But did you know that what’s going on inside your mouth may be a pretty big indicator of what’s happening within your heart? New studies show that oral health, and periodontitis in particular are directly related to heart health. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to have coronary artery disease (also called heart disease). One study even found that the presence of common problems in the mouth, including gum disease (gingivitis), cavities, and missing teeth, were as good at predicting heart disease as cholesterol levels.
While scientists aren’t entirely sure of the nature of the correlation, there are a few hypotheses.
Experts know that bacteria originating in the mouth can enter the bloodstream through the gums. While the plaque that we talk about that blocks arteries and contributes to arteriosclerosis is of a different nature, bacteria from mouth plaque has been found in artery plaques. So, one theory posits that these bacteria stick to the plaque in the bloodstream, which contributes to artery blockages. Another theory links the body’s tendency to inflammation (swelling) to battle an infection. As the oral bacteria travel through the body, they trigger the body’s inflammation response which could then narrow an artery and increase the risk of clots.
As of right now, doctors aren’t certain if there is a direct link between periodontal disease and heart disease, only that there is a direct correlation between the amount of bacteria in the mouth, and plaque buildup in the arteries. “In our study, we know that people who had higher levels of the bacteria had more arteriosclerosis, or atherosclerosis. But we can’t say whether one caused the other,” said Moise Desvarieux, MD, PhD, and lead author of a recent study published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association that studied 657 people without known heart disease. But even if periodontal disease isn’t the cause of heart conditions, it could be an early warning sign, lending it great significance.
So what does this mean? Well, protecting your heart may be a lot easier than previously thought. For starters, regular teeth cleanings may now ward off heart disease, in addition to the known benefits of keeping your teeth in pristine condition. “If you keep your mouth clean, it’s very hard for the bacteria that cause periodontal disease to get started,” says Gordon Douglass, DDS, past president of the American Academy of Periodontology. Regular teeth cleanings keep your smile bright, as well as keeping plaque-causing bacteria to a minimum. So, brush your way to a healthy heart, and see your dentist regularly.
Written by Dr. Banthia, Double Board Certified Surgeon and Founder of ZendyHealth.com