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How are healthy teeth and gums linked to heart health?

Dawn Marcus
Neurology
“Don’t forget to brush your teeth!” You probably grew up hearing your parents’ frequent reminders to brush your teeth to avoid getting cavities. But did you know that many researchers believe that healthy teeth and gums are linked to a healthy heart?

Dental researchers published their finding of a review of the literature on the link between oral and heart health in the July 2009 issue of the journal Odontology. They reported two major findings. First, there is a small, but significant increased risk of heart disease in people with periodontitis, an inflammatory condition around the teeth. The main cause of periodontal disease is bacterial plaque on the teeth, which can be readily removed with good oral hygiene. Second, individuals with periodontitis have higher levels of C-reactive protein. C-reactive protein is a well known as a marker of inflammation, with elevated levels predicting increased risk for heart disease. Interestingly, periodontal treatments reduce C-reactive protein, although studies are not available to see if this decrease results in reduced risk for heart disease.

So the next time you use your toothbrush -- smile and know that you’re giving yourself a gorgeous grin and protecting your heart in the bargain!
There is a link between heart disease and gum disease, so keeping the gums and teeth healthy can promote a healthy heart. Experts don’t know the exact link but think that inflammation and bacteria from gum disease is somehow related to heart disease. By keeping your teeth and gums clean and healthy, it increases your chances for heart health.

Another concern with people who have had heart disease, specifically a history of endocarditis or artificial valves, is that bacteria from the mouth can travel to the heart and cause a heart infection called endocarditis. If you have had heart disease, talk to your dentist. Let the dentist know what heart medications you are taking and what your heart conditions are.
As of 2013, we can't say that unhealthy teeth cause heart disease.

BUT -- there does seem to be some sort of relationship.

Two theories make sense to me.
  1. Bacteria in your mouth can get into the bloodstream and cause astherosclerotic plaque. (Researchers have isolated bacteria in blocked blood vessels that can be found in your mouth.)
  2. The theory I believe to make the most sense: Inflammation in your mouth isn't just limited to damaging your mouth. The inflamatory compounds are "global" and can have an effect elsewhere (like blood vessels).

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.