image0194When you ask most people about the best ways to fight heart disease (also known as coronary artery disease), they will respond with suggestions like ‘exercise,’ and ‘a low fat diet.’ And they are absolutely right. Regularly raising your heart rate and decreasing your intake of fatty foods is essential to keeping your heart healthy.

But there is another activity that may play a crucial role in preventing heart disease: brushing and flossing. Oral health, in particular the health of your gums, is getting more attention these days from researchers looking to help people avoid coronary artery disease.

Red Gums, Red Flag

According to the American Academy of Periodontology, studies indicate that people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to have heart disease. Other research has shown that cavities, gum disease, and missing teeth are as good an indicator of the likelihood of coronary artery disease as cholesterol levels.

What’s the connection? Scientists aren’t sure. It is known that bacteria of the mouth can enter the bloodstream through the gums. Some researchers believe that these bacteria may stick to the plaque already accumulating in an artery, increasing the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke. Others think that the presence of these bacteria in the blood may trigger the body’s own defense mechanisms, causing blood vessels to swell and constrict, here again, creating conditions that might lead to a cardiac event.

Cause for Concern…and Better Oral Care!

While few in the medical or dental fields are ready to say there is a definitive link between oral health and heart health, it seems that most experts agree that there is a connection of some kind. Even if the cause and effect are reversed (i.e. heart disease causes an increase in mouth bacteria and the resulting gum disease), the link is still significant. Heart disease is difficult to detect in its early stages, as you can’t feel your arteries hardening and often don’t have any symptoms until it’s too late.

So, What’s the Takeaway for You?

First, you should have a new appreciation for the benefits of your regular brushing and flossing routine. Have you been meaning to start paying more attention to your oral care? Now’s the time! And second, it’s important to report any significant change in your oral health, especially related to your gums, to your dentist and/or doctor promptly. It might be something as simple as a piece of food trapped below the gum line causing inflammation. But if it’s something more, you’ll be glad you started dealing with the problem right away rather than letting it grow.