The importance of having good dental health has been drilled into most of us from an early age: brushing and flossing correctly every day will keep cavities away. But did you know that having good dental health can mean much more than a healthy mouth? It can contribute to a lower risk of heart disease than among those whose mouths need a little more attention.
February is American Heart Month, a time when we pause to consider how each of us can prevent heart disease or minimize its severity.
It can be odd to think that the state of your mouth has any relationship to the state of your heart, but recent research has shown this to be true. Several studies have shown that people with oral health issues like gum disease or tooth loss have higher rates of heart problems like heart attacks and stroke than those with healthy mouths.
Researchers have said they believe the bacteria common in gum disease can travel through the body and trigger an inflammation in the heart’s vessels and an infection in heart valves.
While many Americans may believe their dental habits are just fine, only about 30% of people floss at least once per day and another 32% say they never floss.
When done correctly, flossing removes food particles that stick to teeth and grow colonies of bacteria that contribute to inflammation and gum disease. Eventually, this plaque hardens into tartar, wearing away at gums and bone and ultimately causing tooth loss.
If you have trouble remembering to floss daily, consider prompting yourself to do so by putting sticky notes on your bathroom mirror, setting a reminder on your phone, and rewarding yourself for a week’s job well done.
You can also try an alternative to traditional dental floss, including a flossing stick, water flosser, interdental brushes, and pre-threaded floss. These can be especially helpful for those with arthritis or a disability that makes it difficult to floss.
A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 47% of all Americans ages 30 and older and 70% of those ages 65 and older have gum disease. Gum disease, also called periodontal disease, occurs more often in men, those living below the federal poverty level, those with less than a high school education, and current smokers.
Risk factors for developing gum disease include:
- Poor oral hygiene
- Crooked teeth
- Immune system problems
- Defective fillings
- Medications that cause dry mouth
- Bridges that don’t fit correctly anymore
- Changes in female hormones, such as that accompany pregnancy or the use of birth control pills
There are several warning signs of gum disease, including:
- Bad breath
- A bad taste that won’t go away
- Red or swollen gums
- Painful chewing
- Tender or bleeding gums
- Loose teeth
- Sensitive teeth
- Gums that have pulled away from your teeth
- A change in how your teeth fit together when you bite
- A change in the way your partial dentures fit
Fortunately, there are two easy things you can do to prevent gum disease (and the chances it will contribute to your chance of heart disease):
- Brush and floss your teeth every day and
- Visit a dentist at least twice a year.
Even if you haven’t been doing this so consistently up until now, it’s never too late to start.
Your heart will thank you.
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