We all know that a healthy diet and exercise can help prevent heart problems like a heart attack or stroke. But there’s another healthy habit that may play a role in lowering your risk of heart disease – and it starts with brushing your teeth.
Studies over the years have shown that poor dental health could be a sign of poor heart health. And the opposite is also true – a healthy smile may translate to a healthy body. In addition to keeping your breath smelling fresh and your teeth looking sparkly, you now have another reason to visit your dentist regularly and maintain good dental hygiene.
Can gum disease affect your heart?
Gum disease (periodontal disease) causes bacterial infections that make your gums and the tissue around your teeth inflamed (and painful). Research shows that these bacteria can also cause your blood vessels and arteries to become inflamed or narrowed, which is a risk factor for heart disease.
Although researchers are still looking for a direct connection between dental bacteria, inflammation, and heart disease, when you maintain healthy habits like flossing, brushing regularly, and going to the dentist twice a year, you are lowering your risk of other health complications.
How does your dental health relate to your overall health?
Doctors believe if you take care of your teeth, you’re more likely to have other healthy habits like not smoking, eating a well-balanced diet and exercising, all of which can lower your risk for heart disease. That’s a win-win.
Conversely, there are several health conditions that may cause negative effects on your dental health, which can translate to heart problems later. If you currently have (or have recently had) any of these health conditions, make sure to tell your dentist and be extra vigilant with brushing, flossing, and dental maintenance.
- Acid Reflux – stomach acid can damage and erode tooth enamel.
- Cancer – treatments like chemotherapy can harm cells in your mouth, gums, and saliva glands.
- Diabetes – inflammation can cause gum disease and cavities.
- Pregnancy – increased hormones can affect your body’s response to plaque, causing gum disease and tooth decay.
Tips for keeping a healthy smile
Brush two times a day (at least). And don’t be afraid to brush after every meal.
Floss. Removing extra food caught in between your teeth (that your toothbrush can’t reach) limits your risk of cavities, gum disease and bad breath.
Visit the dentist regularly. A routine cleaning (usually every 6 months) and other yearly tests like oral cancer screenings and x-rays can set you up for victory.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends:
- Quitting smoking
- Drinking fluoridated water and brushing with fluoride toothpaste
- Drinking plenty of water
- Limiting alcoholic drinks
- Talking to your doctor about switching your medications if they cause dry mouth, as dry mouth can create dental health problems
Find out if you are at risk for heart disease by taking our Heart Risk Assessment quiz—it only takes five minutes!
Show some love to your mouth (and your heart). If you have questions about your dental and heart health, or if you want to find ways to get your overall health on track, find a primary care doctor using one of the regional directories below. You can also search for a specialist that’s right for you in our provider directory.