Could good oral hygiene prevent heart problems? There is an increasing amount of evidence that there is indeed a link between certain bacteria found in plaque and the risk of developing a heart condition.
Plaque is a whitish film that accumulates on teeth every day. If it isn’t removed by brushing and flossing daily, it builds up and hardens into tartar. Tartar is very porous, so it’s an ideal nesting ground for periodontal bacteria. The bacteria emit toxins that attack gums and cause inflammation, redness and swelling. This is what we then call gingivitis. If the condition remains untreated, it could progress into periodontal disease, an infectious disease that affects gums and bones and that can lead to bad breath and tooth loss.
Researchers studied individuals with periodontal disease and found more plaque-based periodontal bacteria among those that have had an acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) in the past. They also found that same bacteria in the lining of the patients’ heart arteries. The team suspects that inflammation in the gums opens up pores in the surrounding blood vessels. The swollen blood vessel walls would then become more permeable, enabling bacteria to enter the bloodstream and make their way to other parts of the body, where they can cause great harm. When they settle into the artery walls, they cause inflammation there also, and researchers believe that blood vessel inflammation plays an important role in the progression that leads to heart conditions.
We still don’t know whether killing the bacteria reduces the risk of heart disease. However, these findings remind us how important it is to practice good dental hygiene, particularly among individuals at risk for or suffering from a heart condition.
Proper brushing of the teeth and gums at least once a day (at bedtime, or ideally after every meal), along with daily flossing, are essential to maintaining good oral health. Visits to the dentist are also a must. Don’t hesitate to speak to your dentist about any questions you may have.