Brush Your Teeth—It's Good for Your Heart

IMAGE You may have remember your mother's constant reminders to brush your teeth. It is something that goes back to the appearance of your first tooth. There is good reason for that. The mouth carries more than 700 types of bacteria. These bacteria can escape your mouth, into the bloodstream, and land in the arteries of your heart.

Gum Disease

Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums around the teeth. It is earliest and most treatable stage gum disease. It can be reveresed with professional dental care and good oral hygiene. If left untreated, gingivitis can rapidly and silently progress to periodontitis. Periodontitis is a more severe form of gum disease. Bacteria invade the gums, bones, and supporting tissues that surround the teeth. Over time, gums separate from teeth, pockets of bacteria form and deepen, and toxins destroy oral tissue. Because it is painless, most adults do not realize it until the damage has occurred.

Heart Disease

Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD is the leading cause of death in the United States. Atherosclerosis is the narrowing of blood vessels due to a build up of a waxy substance, called plaque, on the walls of the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle with blood. Plaque makes it difficult for blood to flow, and slows or stops the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the heart muscle. This blockage can lead to a heart attack. CAD is also a progressive disease. It may not be noticed until chest pain occurs.

The Connection

For hundreds of years, people have recognized a connection between oral infections and systemic conditions. More recent investigations have found an association between gum disease and heart disease, low birth-weight babies, respiratory infections, and diabetes. One study found people with periodontal bone loss had twice the chance of fatal heart disease. The exact mechanism that increases cardiovascular risk remains murky, but experts believe bacteria from the chronic gum infection enter the bloodstream and cause white blood cells that fight infections to release inflammatory chemicals that create a build-up of fatty deposits and clots in the arteries. Studies have shown that chronic infections in other parts of the body can cause a similar response.

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