Proper dental hygiene isn’t just connected to a healthier, whiter smile, but doctors believe its connection to cardiovascular systems could make the toothbrush and spool of floss two more weapons in the arsenal for fighting heart disease.
As heart disease remains one of the leading causes of death in the United States since 1921 — nearly 3,400 people each day suffered a new or recurrent heart attack in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — any advantages to battling the dreaded disease can prove a world of difference.
“The healthier mouth has less bacteria and that in turn promotes an overall healthy well-being for a person,” said Dr. Matthew Mangino, a dentist at Paducah Dental Care.
But it’s when adequate oral hygiene is lacking, that bacteria can overwhelm the environment of a person’s mouth and lead to further complications. When left uncontrolled, the build-up of food debris can harden into plaque and attract mouth bacteria, such as streptococcus gordonii and streptococcus mutans.
The bacteria can lead to gingivitis — the inflammation of the gums — or ultimately periodontal disease which then can allow such bacteria to enter into the bloodstream. Once in the blood stream, Mangino said bacteria can circulate through to the heart and lead to such complications as arterial blockages and infection.
The inflammation of the gums in turn raises C-reactive protein levels in the body, leading to an increased risk of inflammatory cells creating blockages in blood vessels and creating over-reactive platelets. Over time the narrowing of the arteries promotes the development of atherosclerosis or hardening arteries, said Patrick Withrow, M.D., chief medical officer at Western Baptist Hospital.
“Now you’re talking more than just bad breath and losing teeth, you’re talking about heart attacks and disease,” Withrow said.
Bacteria in the bloodstream can also affect abnormalities within the circulatory system such as abnormal heart valves, mechanical valves or pacemakers. Known as infective endocarditis, the infection causes inflammation of the inner heart tissues.
“Researchers continue to find associations between periodontal disease and other chronic health conditions like heart disease,” said Dr. Jed Jacobson, chief science officer at Delta Dental of Kentucky in a news release.
In patients with a history of heart disease, Withrow said proper oral health is valuable in maintaining a healthy heart.
Routine dental check-ups every six months and X-rays once yearly can allow dentists the opportunity to catch early stages of tooth decay and periodontal disease, Mangino said. Brushing and flossing regularly, and controlling commonly occurring oral bacteria with fluoride rinses keep the mouth from developing problems.
“As long as you take care of your mouth, there shouldn’t be further issues in the future,” Mangino said.
Call Will Pinkston, a Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676.