We encourage regular dental visits as preventive care against tooth decay and gum disease, but perhaps you’ve seen articles online about how your teeth can predict heart disease and diabetes before you've even seen your doctor. Is it true? Let's dig in a little deeper.
Does good dental hygiene prevent heart disease?
You're scrolling through your Facebook feed and see an article a friend shared: Bad Brushing Habits Cause Heart Disease. As with most internet headlines, there's truth in this and a bit of exaggeration to get you to click and read more.
The truth is, we don't know what the link is between oral health and heart disease (more on that later). But we do know that multiple scientific studies have shown that there is a link. Bad brushing habits aren't the only cause of heart disease, but with the research on the topic piling up, it's at least worth making sure you always get the recommended two-minute, twice-a-day brushing. And while outside the focus of this blog post, it should be noted that recent studies have linked oral bacteria in plaque to dementia.
The link between oral health and heart disease
So how exactly does your oral health influence your heart health? There's still some discussion about whether this is a matter of correlation or causation, but more and more, it's looking like poor oral health may actually cause heart disease. How does it do that? Scientists believe it has to do with inflammation.
Gum disease, or periodontitis, is an inflammatory disease. It causes the body to be in a continual state of inflammation, which is a predictor of cardiovascular disease. Gum disease also worsens blood pressure, another risk factor for heart problems.
Poor dental health also means there's more opportunity for bacterial infections in the mouth to travel elsewhere in the body. Infection in the bloodstream can affect your heart valves and cause thicker carotid arteries.
How diabetes impacts your oral health
Gum disease and diabetes are more closely related than you might think. When the body has high glucose levels in the blood, as with diabetes, it has a harder time fighting off infection. One place where infection can take root is in the mouth, especially considering that high glucose levels can cause oral bacteria to flourish. These are the perfect conditions for gum disease.
Gum disease then causes blood sugar levels to rise as the body tries to fight the infection. This is especially problematic for anyone with diabetes, but it's a phenomenon that's observed even in patients without diabetes.
The bottom line
Your dentist can't look at your teeth and tell you that you have heart disease or diabetes. What we can tell is whether the condition of your teeth and gums may indicate there are other potential health problems you may not know about. Studies released this year have even linked oral bacteria in plaque as a contributor to Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
Other than good hygiene practices at home, the best thing you can do for your oral health is to make regular appointments for dental check-ups and cleanings. We look forward to meeting you. Contact us today at 212-685-4730 to schedule an exam at our convenient Midtown office.