Healthy Teeth and Gums—More Important Than Ever for Your Heart
Gum disease, when bacteria-laden plaque accumulates around the teeth, has long been linked to poorer health—particularly heart health. Inflammation is believed to be behind the connection.
Now it looks as though another common dental infection may be just as harmful. Called apical periodontitis, the condition results in inflammatory lesions that occur at the tip of a tooth’s root, triggering the same low-grade inflammation seen in gum disease. University of Helsinki researchers recently studied 508 patients, 36 percent of whom had experienced the symptoms of acute coronary syndrome (ACS)—heart blockages that often lead to angioplasty and stenting. The study found that ACS was 2.7 times more common among those with the dental infections.
A firm causal link between dental and heart health has yet to be established, but it seems probable that inflammatory substances from the gum and teeth collect in the blood and circulate through the body, contributing to heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. And it’s getting clearer that good dental care and hygiene have a role to play in staying heart healthy. Research shows that treating gum disease results in fewer hospitalizations and lower health costs related to several conditions, including heart disease and diabetes.
More confirmation comes in a surprising new study from the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University In Boca Raton. The trial involved 61 patients, half of whom were given regular toothpaste and the other half a special toothpaste designed to reveal plaque, allowing patients to target their brushing more effectively. All patients received the same brushing instructions and had tests of their blood levels of C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation, which can be used to predict a person’s risk for heart attacks and stroke.
After 60 days on the hygiene regimen, patients using the plaque-revealing toothpaste had cut their dental plaque levels in half, compared to just 24 percent in those using regular toothpaste. Inflammation, as measured by high-sensitivity CRP testing, dropped by 29 percent in the special toothpaste group, compared to a 25 percent rise in the group using ordinary toothpaste, hinting that better brushing could lead to better heart health.
These results need to be confirmed in larger trials with researchers following patients over several years to see whether a more rigorous routine at the sink could result in fewer heart attacks and strokes.
Until that happens, it still makes good sense to step up your dental hygiene. Brush and floss your teeth every day—a daily habit can prevent and even reverse early gum disease, called gingivitis. Have your teeth cleaned twice a year and if gum disease is found, follow up on treatment. Finally, stay alert to these signs of active gum disease:
- swollen or tender gums
- gums that bleed easily
- bad breath
- hard deposits along the gum line
- loose teeth or teeth moving apart