Smiling family

A healthy smile can also mean a healthy heart

Is there a connection between healthy teeth and gums and heart health? Doctors are recognizing the connection more and more. Brushing our teeth two or three times daily is not just good for a pretty smile; it may be good for maintaining a healthy heart as well!

Over the past 20 years, researchers and doctors around the world have studied thousands of patients and noticed a very strong statistical relationship between having healthy teeth and gums and having a healthy heart. In fact, the connection between good oral hygiene and good health extends to several health conditions, including:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease
  • Dementia

Doctors note that the more severe the dental and gum disease, the more likely a person is to develop a stroke or heart attack. Some studies have reported up to a 70 percent increased likelihood of the diseases listed above with poor oral health.

Why is poor oral health a risk factor for heart attacks, diabetes, arthritis and stroke? The answer is probably a combination of factors.

First, it may be that people who neglect their teeth also neglect maintaining a healthy diet and may consume more tobacco, alcohol and fast and fatty foods that, by themselves, are bad for the heart.

Secondly, poor oral health is associated with gingivitis. Gingivitis is chronic inflammation of the gums. The inflamed state of the gums can cause a release of special inflammatory proteins (C-reactive proteins) into the bloodstream, which can, in turn, cause inflammation in other areas of the body including blood vessels, joints, and the heart.

Thirdly, with inflamed gums, the bacteria in the mouth can get into the small cracks and fissures in inflamed gums and gain access to the blood stream. These bacteria can be associated with fatty plaques that stick on and build up on the walls of the blood vessels.

This causes the vessels to become narrow and decreases blood flow. Decreased blood flow can adversely affect the organs supplied with blood carried by these vessels, including the heart, kidneys and brain.

Over 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year. That means that cardiovascular disease is responsible for almost one in every four deaths in the U.S. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women. Research has suggested that maintaining good oral health could make an impact and reduce cardiovascular disease and other conditions like renal disease, arthritis, diabetes and dementia.

So, having a pretty smile not only makes you look good, but it may also be great for your overall health. If you have not had a dental exam in the past year, it’s time to schedule an appointment. Your dentist will recommend an examination schedule moving forward.

Remember that starting a healthy teeth and gums program and getting treatment for any existing periodontal disease can be one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself and your family. A healthy smile can mean a very healthy person.

 

Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He received his M.D. and Master’s Degree in Molecular Biology and Genomics from the Mayo Clinic. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine. Dr. Crutchfield was recognized by Minnesota Medicine as one of the 100 Most Influential Healthcare Leaders in Minnesota. He is the team dermatologist for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild and Lynx. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of both the American and National Medical Associations.

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