What if you were told that regularly flossing your teeth may help protect your heart. Would you do it more often? Well, hopefully your answer is “yes,” because more and more, the research is showing that a healthy mouth may contribute to a healthier heart.
According to Dr. Jeffrey Rappaport, general dentist and co-founder of Afora in New York City, there is a strong link between gum disease (flossing) and heart disease. But before you go rushing out to load up on dental floss, you should know that it is not a “cause and effect” type of connection. Rappaport says that the two going hand-in-hand is a “maybe,” and stresses the potential link between the two as being inflammation along with common risk factors such as smoking, stress, obesity and poor habits, among others. And his beliefs are echoed by other doctors who also wonder if better brushing and flossing can be added to the list of factors impacting heart disease.
Dr. Thomas Boyden, Jr., the medical director of preventive cardiology at Spectrum Health Medical Group Cardiovascular Services in Grand Rapids, Michigan, says, “It's hard to prove cause and effect. However, I think the data is pretty strong and there is definitely a link.”
Oral health is serious business
Even though oral health isn't “the key” to heart disease prevention, it's important to take care of your teeth and gums. That is why Rappaport tells SheKnows that patients should be aware of the signs of gum disease, which includes: inflamed, red, bloody gums caused by bacteria on the teeth.
“When the gums are diseased, bacteria can very easily get into the bloodstream,” he explains. “Bacteria that is commonly found in the blood of people who have experienced strokes or heart attacks are also the same of that found in periodontal cases.”
Rappaport explains that while flossing alone is not the answer to preventing heart disease, taking better care of your oral health can help your chances of staying healthy.
“Maintaining a balanced diet, exercising regularly, having an annual physical and not skipping those dentist appointments will all help keep your body and heart healthy,” he adds.
What your dentist wants you to know
Many dentists not only consult on and treat patients' oral health, but also their overall health and well-being. The mouth is just one part of the body, but how you take care of it can impact everything else. And while many of us believe we are just going to the dentist to get a few X-rays and have our teeth cleaned (or maybe the occasional filling), the hygienists and dentists see our visit as an opportunity to discuss and consider other health issues as well.
There are many other health conditions that can manifest in the oral cavity, says Rappaport, adding that he wishes that people knew that there’s definitely a link between oral health and overall health.
“Dentists and hygienists are trained to pick up on these often subtle signs and symptoms, but it’s important for patients to also understand the serious side effects of poor dental health,” he says.
Although there is still a lot to learn about whether and how periodontitis and other oral problems are linked to heart disease, it’s still important to take care of your teeth. Because after all, if you are diligent about treating your mouth health, your overall health gets better too.