Medical research continues to show a strong connection between oral health and heart health. Regular dental care may reduce the risk of heart disease and certainly improves overall health. People with periodontal disease – gum infection and tooth decay – appear to be at a higher risk of having or dying from a heart attack, heart failure, or stroke.
February is American Heart Month, a time to focus on cardiovascular health and overall wellness. But, really, every month is heart month. No matter what the calendar says, regular dental care and a good oral hygiene routine are critical.
Understanding What Connects Dental Health and Overall Health
The American Dental Association and American Heart Association both recognize the relationship between gum disease and heart disease. We don’t yet know whether there is a specific factor that raises the risk of heart disease or whether it is a combination.
Some studies indicate that bacteria that infect the gums can enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body, causing blood vessel inflammation and damage to your heart’s valves. The problem may also stem from the chronic inflammation associated with untreated gum disease. The body's immune response, inflammation, can be triggered by chronic oral infection and may result in vascular damage throughout the body. Or both of these factors may come into play, along with issues such as people not being able to eat healthy foods without strong teeth or not having easy access to preventive healthcare.
The bottom line is that there is definitely a connection between good oral health and a healthy mouth and gums support heart health.
A heart-healthy lifestyle
What’s good for your teeth is good for your heart. Here’s how to keep your smile- and your heart - strong and healthy. And if you already have heart disease, good oral hygiene can help prevent some types of heart infections (such as bacterial endocarditis). Make sure your dentist knows about your heart condition, you may need special care, such as a prescription for an antibiotic, before dental appointments.
Get smart about your heart – Knowing the warning signs and best tips for preventing or treating cardiovascular disease can save one's life. We tend to think that heart attacks are all about crushing pain in the chest, but that’s not always true. Women, especially, may experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain. And roughly 1-in-5 incidents are silent heart attacks, causing damage to the heart muscle without recognizable symptoms to the person suffering the attack. And, did you know that a sudden pain that seems to be a toothache can actually be a heart attack symptom?
Make sure you’re getting enough sleep – Adults who sleep less than 7 hours each night raise their risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Why? In part, because when you are sleeping, your blood pressure goes down. Having sleep problems means your blood pressure stays higher for a longer period of time.
Manage stress – Yes, we’re all struggling with stress overload these days. But try to find ways to manage it, such as yoga, improvements to your sleeping habits, or therapy to help you better manage stress. Your body goes into caveperson mode when you’re stressed out. Your brain prompts your adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, that are useful in helping you to fight the threat or run away from it very quickly. But an overabundance of adrenaline in your system can cause high blood pressure which is (see above) really bad for your heart, headaches, upset stomach, heartburn, sore throats and teeth grinding.
Move your body – Regular exercise not only burns calories and shapes your body, it also protects your heart. How? Like other muscles, your heart becomes stronger with regular physical activity. As your cardiovascular fitness improves, your heart muscle doesn't have to work as forcefully to pump blood through your body. And don’t forget to make healthy eating choices!
See your dentist – Research indicates that people with gum infections and or tooth decay appear to be at a higher risk of having or dying from a heart attack, heart failure or stroke. Make sure to have a good at-home dental hygiene routine (for starters, that means brushing your teeth for three minutes, with a soft brush, twice a day and flossing). And see your dentist for a checkup and cleaning every six months or as often as your dentist requests.
Think you can’t afford regular dental care? Good news: Dental savings plans are an affordable alternative to traditional dental insurance, which provides plan members with 10-60% off most dental procedures. Many plans also include savings on vision, hearing, chiropractic care, and prescription drugs, and some even have discounts on telehealth services. If you’d like to learn more about how dental savings plans work, please reach out to us at 1-833-735-0399.