The Surprising Connection: How Taking Care of Your Oral Health Can Benefit Your Heart
It may seem far-fetched to think that the health of your mouth can impact the health of your heart. However, considering how each of your body systems work in tandem with other systems, evidence suggests that there is a connection between your oral health and your heart health.
While poor oral health may lead to adverse effects in different parts of your body including your heart, good dental care may support a normal immune response while helping you maintain a healthy heart.
How gum disease is linked to heart disease
Gum disease is a very common condition affecting nearly 50% of adults aged 30 years and older.1 The disease is caused by bacteria in your mouth that can infect and inflame the tissue surrounding your teeth. Poor oral hygiene can promote the growth of bacteria which can lead to a buildup of plaque, a sticky film that coats your teeth that can spread below the gum line.
The early stage of gum disease is called gingivitis, but when left untreated, gingivitis can progress into periodontitis. This is the more advanced stage of gum disease which can severely damage your gums and lead to tooth loss over time.
Some studies suggest nearly 800 species of bacteria may be found in your oral cavity.2 If your gums are bleeding or you’re in an early stage of gum disease, these bacteria can move from the mouth and affect other regions of your body.
The bacteria that infect the gums, causing gingivitis and periodontitis can travel through open blood vessels throughout your body causing inflammation and damage. Over time, this can lead to blood clots, and the formation of plaques in your arteries increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke.
One study found that periodontal disease is likely to cause a 19% increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease, and this risk jumps to 44% among people aged 65 years and over.2
A more recent research study showed similar findings. The 2021 study published in The European Heart Journal found that gum disease was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and the more severe the periodontitis, the higher the risk.3
How good oral hygiene can support your heart health
While poor oral hygiene may negatively impact your heart health, good oral hygiene can support a healthy heart.
One 2019 study found that adults who brushed at least twice a day experienced a 9% reduction in cardiovascular disease risk over a 9 year period. Furthermore, people who brushed twice a day and visited a dentist at least once per year experienced a 14% reduction in cardiovascular disease occurrence.4
Researchers noted that the connection between oral and heart health is likely due to the inflammation found in both gum disease and heart disease. The inflammation found in your mouth as a result of gum disease may also exacerbate it in the arteries of your heart.4
Protecting your heart with good oral hygiene
The symptoms of the beginning stages of gum disease often go unnoticed. However, knowing what to look for can help reduce your risk of furthering the progression of the disease.
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, the following are symptoms of gum disease:
Red, swollen gums
Gums bleed when flossing, brushing, or eating
Gums that look as if they are "pulling away", or receding from the teeth
Persistent bad breath
Regardless of whether you’ve been experiencing some of these symptoms of gum disease for a short, or long time, it’s never too late to prioritize your oral health.
While you can’t control all the risk factors for heart disease, like age and family history, you can change your cardiovascular risk with healthy lifestyle choices like good oral hygiene.
An ideal oral hygiene routine includes brushing and flossing at least twice per day and a dental visit at least every six months for a cleaning and evaluation. Brushing and flossing on a regular basis will disrupt the growth of bacteria that can lead to gum disease.
Furthermore, being proactive about your oral health by having a good oral hygiene routine may protect the health of your heart and can keep your smile healthy and beautiful for years to come.
Eke PI, Dye B, Wei L, Thornton-Evans G, Genco R. (2012). Journal of Dental Research. researchgate.net.
Nazir MA. (2017). International Journal of Health Science (Qassim). PubMed.
G Ferrannini, A Norhammar, M Almosawi, et al. (2021). European Heart Journal, Volume 42, Issue Supplement_1. Oxfard Acacemic, academic.oup.com.
Shin-Young Park, Sun-Hwa Kim, et al.(2019). European Heart Journal, Volume 40, Issue 14. Oxford Academic, academic.oup.com.