For nearly a century, doctors have been warning their patients that being negligent about oral hygiene may lead to heart problems down the road. Although many of the mechanisms that were speculated to connect the heart and teeth have proven to be false, recent research has helped us discover more about the relationship between the two. Doctors even have some definitive answers about what your teeth can tell you about your heart.
How Does Gum Disease Affect the Heart?
The reason why doctors have long speculated about the link between teeth and heart disease is because they very often occur together. Until recently, the most popular theories about that connection speculated that the bacteria which cause gum disease may also release toxins into the bloodstream, leading to the formation of plaque in the arteries. Others suggested that the two conditions were joined by inflammation of the blood vessels stemming from oral bacteria.
While none of these theories have been proven, a recent study at the Uppsala University Hospital in Sweden found that the inflammation caused by gum disease is involved in the narrowing of arteries. Although there’s clearly a connection between these two conditions, many doctors will tell you that there’s probably no cause and effect relationship.
An Increased Risk for Heart Disease
Even if heart disease isn’t caused by poor oral hygiene, it’s clear that the two are strongly correlated. Patients without teeth are twice as likely to die from heart disease as patients who still have their teeth. They’re also 85% more likely to suffer cardiovascular death, and as nearly as likely to suffer a stroke. Statistically speaking, each individual tooth you lose increases the likelihood you will suffer from a number of serious conditions including hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.
While there are many factors at play, much of the reason why heart disease and gum disease so often occur together is because they share several risk factors, including age, tobacco use, stress, obesity, and poor nutrition. Consequently, diligent oral hygiene probably isn’t going to have a direct effect on the health of your heart. Suffering from gum disease may mean you’re more likely to suffer from a stroke or heart disease, but it isn’t going to cause a stroke or heart disease.
Oral Hygiene for Heart Health
Nevertheless, your teeth can tell you a great deal about your current risk for heart disease — people with healthier mouths tend to have healthier hearts as well. For everyone else, the best way to improve the health of your heart probably isn’t to be earnest about flossing — although that’s still a good practice to have! But if you focus on fixing the shared risk factors of periodontal disease and heart disease, you’ll be able to do two things that are good for your health instead of just one.