You might have heard that taking care of your oral health could prevent heart disease. It’s certainly true that there is a correlation between the two since research shows that those who suffer from poor oral health—and more especially from gum disease—have a higher risk of heart disease. There are a number of lines of evidence that suggest that taking care of your teeth and gums could help your heart, even if the research hasn’t pinned down an exact connection.
Shared Effects of Dental Health and Heart Disease
Periodontitis (gum disease) and heart disease involve some of the same effects on the body. These shared effects include:
- Inflammatory proteins: Levels of CRP (C-reactive protein) in the bloodstream can be used to determine someone’s risk of heart attack. The higher the levels, the more the risk. The amount of this protein also increases in those with moderate to severe gum disease.
- Bacteria: Many of the types of bacteria associated with periodontitis are also found in hardened arteries that contribute toward heart disease.
The fact that both diseases are associated with inflammation and similar bacteria is strong evidence that there may be a connection between the two.
Common Risk Factors
It’s possible that the connection is not so much between oral health and cardiovascular disease in and of themselves, but rather in the habits that predispose an individual to them. Both periodontitis and heart disease share some of the same risk factors. The following factors indicate an increased likelihood that an individual might develop either gum disease or heart health issues:
- Old age
- Inflamed arteries
The main point here is that the two could occur together, even if one doesn’t necessarily cause the other. Each could stem from the same factors, but might otherwise be unrelated.
As the research stands now, there is no evidence that poor oral health causes heart disease. While the research shows that there is a correlation—one is often found with the other—no direct links have been found between the two.
Still, there is reason to believe that there might be a connection, but more research will be needed before we can determine what that connection might be. Some possibilities include:
- Poor oral health could cause heart disease: Poor oral health leads to increased levels of certain bacteria in the mouth, and those bacteria could find their way into the bloodstream.
- Heart disease could lead to periodontitis: Conversely, the bacteria associated with atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) may find their way into the mouth. There might be other causation effects at work as well.
- Both just happen to be caused by similar factors: It could simply be a case where the same risk factors for one also happen to lead to the other. Habits that lead to heart disease coincidentally
- contribute toward gum disease as well.
- Some combination of these: It’s also quite possible that there is a more complex relationship between poor oral health and cardiovascular disease than a simple “one causes the other” scenario. Each could feed into the other, and their similar risk factors could affect each one in individual ways.
Again, there isn’t any conclusive evidence to indicate the exact connection, but there is still reason to believe that there is one. As it stands now, however, there is only a correlation, nothing more.
Taking care of your teeth could help your heart, but you shouldn’t look to prevent heart attacks or strokes only by brushing and flossing daily. Habits such as keeping a healthy diet and exercising regularly are definitively shown to reduce the odds of heart disease, so those should be incorporated into your daily routine.
This doesn’t diminish the importance of keeping up on your dental health, however. It might not necessarily spare you from a heart attack, but keeping up on oral hygiene has other benefits in that it prevents tooth decay and gum disease. Always be sure to brush, floss, and visit your dentist regularly to keep up on your oral health.