Folks worried about their heart health will be relieved to learn that a number of recent studies suggest that you already have a cheap yet very powerful weapon against heart attacks, strokes and other heart disease conditions. At a cost of less than $2 it sits, waiting, on your bathroom counter and is none other your humble toothbrush.
Researchers have found that people with Periodontal Disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from Coronary Artery Disease as those without Periodontal Disease. One study even found that the presence of common problems in the mouth, including gum disease (Gingivitis), cavities and missing teeth, were as good at predicting Heart Disease as cholesterol levels!
How can that be? Some studies point to the culprit in the, ‘bad gums = heart disease’ connection as an inflammatory process. They explain that plaque build-up at the gum-line, produces inflammation which sets-off a cascade of events producing inflammation in the arteries of the heart.
Oral bacteria may provoke inflammation, which may increase levels of white blood cells and C-Reactive Protein, or CRP, Will said. C-Reactive Protein is an inflammatory marker found in the blood that has been linked to Heart Disease. A form of this protein called, ‘Highly Sensitive CRP (or hs-CRP) is considered a good predictor of recurrent heart attacks. The hs-CRP is also associated with lower survival rates, according to the American Heart Association. Consumer Reports cites a recent study that found periodontal therapy actually reduced patients’ levels of CRP.
Yet most recent studies point to bacteria rather than CRP as the connection between Heart Disease and Gum Disease. Researchers at Howard University did a retrospective look at 11 studies that examined the connection between Periodontal Disease and Heart Disease.
Results point to a strong correlation between subjects’ levels of systemic bacteria, the presence of Periodontal Disease and the development of Heart Disease. “They found that individuals with Periodontal Disease whose biomarkers showed increased bacterial exposure, were more likely to develop coronary heart disease or atherogenesis;” which is the formation of artery-blocking plaque, according to study results published by the American Academy of Periodontology.
Periodontitis has been linked in multiple studies not only to heart disease, but also Diabetes complications, pneumonia, stroke and even premature births.
The milder form of gum disease is gingivitis and, with proper treatment, it usually can be reversed with improved oral care and mouth rinses. The more aggressive form is periodontitis, according to the American Academy of Periodontology. When the gums become red and inflamed due to poor oral hygiene or a disease in the body affecting soft tissue, “the spillover of bacteria gets into the bloodstream,” said Gayle Will, deputy health editor of Consumer Reports.
Another study by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York looked at people with no known Heart Disease, and the levels of bacteria in their mouth. They found people with higher blood levels of certain oral bacteria were more likely to have clogged carotid arteries in the neck, which can cause strokes. Yet the lead author of that study, Dr. Moise Desvarieux, said the results could lead to the old “which-came-first, the-chicken-or-the-egg” question. It is difficult to know for certain whether one caused the other and further research is needed.
Still, he suggests, even if severe gum disease doesn’t cause Heart Disease, it could be just as important to know if Gum Disease is a precursor to heart disease. That’s because Heart Disease is difficult to diagnose before patients are symptomatic — and sometimes by then, significant damage is already done.
Why not begin to make changes to safe-guard your heart health today? You can easily start by establishing a routine of flossing and brushingafter each meal, followed by a refreshing natural mouth rinse. This is especially important as a bedtime habit. A lot can happen to your mouth in eight hours — especially when you’re sleeping and bacterium are gathering on your teeth.
So start your new routine today!
-Jeanne Ricks, CHC, AADP