Healthy Teeth, Healthy Heart

Healthy Teeth, Healthy Heart

Get the facts about flossing, gum disease and heart disease

Most everyone knows that a daily flossing helps promote healthy teeth and gums, but that may be just the tip of the iceberg. Research suggests that there’s a link between flossing and heart disease, meaning that your daily flossing ritual may do a lot more than protect your pearly whites.

Let's Start with Your Smile

Without regular flossing, your whole mouth can really suffer. A soft, sticky bacterial film (plaque) begins to accumulate on neglected teeth, especially below the gum line. Eventually, the acids in this plaque begin to destroy the outer enamel of teeth. Gums may become irritated and bleed. Breath may start to smell bad. And after a while, the plaque hardens into crusty yellow or brown deposits -- called tartar -- that make it even easier for more plaque to build up. Eventually, lack of flossing can lead to gingivitis, periodontal disease, and tooth loss.

As if that weren't reason enough to floss, now research suggests that regular flossing may affect more than the health of your mouth.

  • Flossing may protect your heart. Research has shown a link between periodontitis and cardiovascular disease. And although they’re not sure what is behind the connection between flossing and heart disease, it may well be due to inflammation that comes from gingivits and periodontal disease. That makes the simple task of flossing a no-brainer for optimal health. (Discover more ways to side-step heart disease and help prevent a heart attack down the road.)
  • Flossing may protect your arteries. Flossing and clogged arteries also may be related. Inflammation is a crucial link in the causal chain that leads to arterial plaque and obstruction. Researchers also speculate that bacteria from the mouth may enter the bloodstream and contribute to inflammation and artery clogging.
  • Flossing may reduce your risk of diabetes and its complications. If you already have certain health concerns, flossing may help protect you from any further health complications. For example, periodontal disease appears to make insulin resistance worse. When cells require more insulin to take up blood sugar from the bloodstream, blood insulin and, eventually, blood sugar levels will rise. Increases in blood insulin and blood sugar levels both have undesirable effects, such as the development of type 2 diabetes.

To the extent that good oral hygiene reduces plaque, gingivitis, periodontal disease, and the accompanying inflammatory processes, proper oral hygiene may in turn improve insulin sensitivity of liver and muscle cells and reduce blood sugar levels and the need for insulin.

Let the String Lead the Way

More and more research is pointing to ties between oral health and overall health. Even when taking into consideration other bad health habits, such as smoking or excessive drinking, studies have still shown a strong link between periodontal disease and other diseases. Short of a visit to the dentist, no other oral healthcare habit alone has the same ability to remove plaque between teeth and below your gum line. Being aware of the connection between flossing and heart disease, as well as diabetes, gives you one more opportunity to achieve premium wellness.

To help fight gum disease and heart disease in one fell swoop, use these tips to get the most out of that little white string:

  • Be sure to slide the floss under your gum line and to gently curl it around each tooth as you floss.
  • Floss gently, but don't quit because your gums bleed. Eventually, they will become stronger and bleed less with regular flossing.
  • Use fresh floss for each tooth juncture.
  • If you find it difficult to manipulate floss with your fingers, purchase dental-floss picks or holders that anchor sections of floss for you in a small, U-shaped plastic device.

Medically reviewed in May 2019. Updated in August 2019.

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