by Arthur Brown
We’ve all seen, and shared, those memes about dentists always replying with, “That’s because you don’t floss”. It was really funny, because you’d get the same answer from your dentist no matter what you’re complaining about. A tooth fell out of its socket? Suffering from a persistent headache? You just gave birth to a premature and low weight baby? Your heart is aching? It’s always because you don’t floss daily.
How ironic would it be to know that all of those can, in fact, really be a result of not flossing daily! Perhaps not as simple as not flossing daily, but you’d be surprised to hear that poor dental health is suspiciously closely related to many serious conditions, some of which are heart diseases.
The newly discovered road connecting teeth and heart
It might be news to most of us, but the relation between dental health and heart diseases has been proposed a very long while ago, a century ago in fact. Scientists and medical professionals alike found a very curious coincidence between diseases related to poor oral health and those related to the heart. Even more, they’ve found that most of the risk factors that account for either kind of diseases have a lot in common.
A century later, researchers finally started putting these theories under closer inspection. And lo and behold, the scientific evidence was indeed alarming.
The results of their research showed how some periodontal conditions can hugely increase the risks of getting heart disease, as opposed to those with healthy dental health. Even more curiously, existing heart conditions can show some warning signs that present themselves in your oral health, giving doctors an opportunity to inspect it further and take the necessary action plan to treat the condition.
In other cases, some of the medications prescribed to patients suffering certain heart conditions can affect the dental health of the patients. They also reached a conclusion, which is that if a patient is suffering from one of the other conditions, they’re most likely to develop the other one too.
In other words, the relationship between dental health and heart diseases is a vicious circle that can start anywhere and continue in a loop.
How poor dental health can affect your heart
To explain it in simple terms, the way your teeth and heart are connected is the same way everything in your body is connected together: through your bloodstream. The bloodstream carries everything your organs need, taking oxygen from your lungs and nutrition into every cell of your body in exchange for the waste products, which your bloodstream also carries to the organs responsible of excreting them. With that in mind, whenever any foreign microorganisms find their way into your system, they will also have access to every place in your body.
So when it happens that you have a bacterial infection in your mouth, the bacteria can easily be carried through your bloodstream to the rest of your body too. For instance, if you developed Periodontitis, a severe condition of inflamed gums, your bloodstream can wash the culprit bacteria all the way from your teeth to your heart, where they attach themselves into weak or injured tissues of the heart. This might cause a weak heart into developing further inflammation of the heart tissue, which is known as Endocarditis.
The spread of these bacteria can also cause inflammation of the arteries. When this happens in a body whose arteries are already clogged, it greatly increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, atherosclerotic vascular disease, and even stroke. The evidence that supports this theory explains how this happens, saying that when the bacteria travel from an infected mouth into the bloodstream, they cause an elevation in the level of the C-reactive protein, which also marks any inflammation occurring in the blood vessels.
But the matter of the fact is, our mouth is normally covered in millions of bacteria, just as it is with many other organs of our bodies. These bacteria are beneficial, some are even critical, to how our systems normally act.
If there are some bacteria that are not beneficial, then at least they are completely harmless. When your body’s natural defence mechanisms are intact, these bacteria pose no risk and are kept under control. The problems start arising when proper oral hygiene is not maintained, or when there are other conditions that affect dental health, in which cases the bacteria take over and start causing issues like decaying teeth or gum diseases. So when and how does that happen?
How poor heart conditions can affect dental health
On the other hand, there are some heart conditions that might affect the health of our dental cavities, sometimes as a direct effect of the disease, but mostly as a result of their respective medications. Some of these conditions and medications are:
High blood pressure
Patients on antihypertensive medications may be prescribed calcium channel blockers, which are known to alter the taste, cause dry mouth, and result in an overgrowth of the gums. If you’re on any calcium channel blockers, you need to consult with your dentist and explain your condition, and your dentist will give a comprehensive oral hygiene to follow.
As it is with hypertensive patients, patients suffering from angina can also be prescribed calcium channel blockers sometimes.
Sometimes a stroke can result in a dry mouth due to the inability to produce enough saliva, in which case your dentist can prescribe you artificial saliva. Patients who had a stroke usually prescribed anticoagulants, which greatly increase the risk of bleeding even in case of minor surgeries, like standard oral surgery procedures.
Common risk factors between Periodontal and Cardiovascular diseases
In looking closely at the connection between periodontal and cardiovascular diseases, some common risk factors were highlighted. Some of the risk factors are:
Vitamin K2 deficiency
Vitamin K2 plays an important role in the way our bodies can utilize the calcium in our bloodstream. When there’s a deficiency in Vitamin K2, the calcium can’t find its proper way into our teeth, which makes them weaker and more prone to falling out or breaking. The calcium that was supposed to precipitate in our teeth and bones starts building up in the lining of our vessel instead. This results in hardening of the blood vessels, also known as atherosclerosis, which cause many heart diseases such as heart failure, coronary heart disease, or stroke.
Smoking is one of the leading factors of heart diseases and dental health deterioration. Smoking clogs and hardens the arteries while building up plaque and decay in our mouth cavity at the same time.
If our diet lacks the proper nutrition that our body needs to function properly, it always shows in the way the organs function. Any deficiency in calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, or vitamins generally, affects every organ in our bodies, especially our teeth and heart.
Some people are more prone to developing either kind of diseases as a result of their genetic disposition. As research has shown, patients suffering from one of either condition are at higher risk for developing the other one, too.
What are the signs? The real problem is that it may not show until too late. When you start feeling there’s something wrong going on in your mouth, that’s usually recurrent abscesses or a tooth suddenly falling out. That only happens when your gum has advanced in the late stages of the infection. Before that, you won’t even feel any pain normally.
Before reaching the most severe condition of Periodontitis, it starts with an early stage of gingivitis, which is inflammation in the gums. Gingivitis makes your gums a little more sensitive, red, and swollen, such that something as simple as brushing your teeth can cause them to bleed. However, even before gingivitis develops, there is a dental plaque that starts building up in the cavities between the teeth and gums.
When dental plaque keeps building up into gingivitis, and if gingivitis remains untreated, that is when Periodontitis develops. Remember the harmless bacteria living in our mouths? They start colonizing in these cavities. As they build up, they result in even more inflammation, which makes the gums and teeth too weak to keep holding together. As time passes, the teeth can fall out altogether.
What can you do to prevent gum diseases?
When it’s something that you can’t notice until it’s way too late, then the smartest plan is to take all of the necessary measures to prevent it from happening altogether. To take proper care of your teeth, make sure to follow the following oral hygiene routine regularly:
Brushing your teeth daily
The first advice is the most obvious one, but brushing your teeth should be a natural habit that you don’t have to think twice before doing it. It comes without saying, you brush your teeth first thing in the morning and last thing before you go to bed. If you’re able to brush your teeth after each meal you should do that, to remove any food remains and debris sticking between your teeth.
The American Dental Association also advises using a soft-bristled toothbrush, which you should change once it’s damaged or every three to four months – whichever happens first. They also stress the importance of using ADA-approved fluoride toothpaste, as fluoride has been proven to prevent tooth decay.
Now that the dentist-memes are out of our system, we can talk about the importance of flossing without giggling. Even if you brush your teeth the proper way and keep regular on your brushing schedule, there some tiny debris and bacteria that might remain stuck in the areas your toothbrush can’t reach. This is where flossing walks in to save the day and get rid of those sticky remains.
You can use dental floss or opt for the latest technology in flossing using a waterpik to ensure you get all of the debris and flood all of the bacteria out of your mouth. It’s recommended to floss regularly after meals, making sure to follow the proper way of flossing so you won’t injure your gums unintentionally.
Getting proper nutrition
Our teeth are basically hardened calcium that precipitates in the shape of our teeth. When our intake of calcium is low, or there are factors that affect the precipitation of calcium, our teeth start becoming weak and sensitive. So it’s very important that our diets are rich in calcium, which can be found in dairy products, fortified soy drinks, almonds, dark leafy vegetables, and canned salmon. Phosphorus and Vitamin-C rich foods also play an important role in developing healthy teeth.
If there’s a deficiency in our Vitamin K2 levels, that might interfere with the predisposition of calcium in our teeth and bones too. Other factors that might affect our calcium level and weaken our teeth and bones are high consumption of soda and caffeine. They can bind into the calcium and prevent the body from utilizing it as should be, so even if we consume the adequate level of calcium it might go to waste.
Keeping track of the risk factors
If you have any of the risk factors that increase the probability of getting dental conditions, you should keep a careful eye on any and all signs. Perhaps you’re pregnant, gum diseases run in your family, or, goodness forbid, you have other diseases like diabetes or heart disease. If any of these are the case, you need to keep regular checkups with your physician to stay on top of the situation.
Stay away from smoking
Smoking is one of the highest risk factors for developing gum diseases and heart diseases alike. If you’ve fallen into the bad habit of smoking, you should probably weigh all of the terrible outcomes that could result from such a habit and decide if you want to be taking that risk.
Take extra care if you are on certain medications
As we’ve mentioned earlier, some medications can affect the teeth and make them more susceptible to becoming sensitive or developing periodontal diseases. If you’re on prescription medication that contains calcium channel blockers or anticoagulants, you should take extra care with your oral hygiene.
The curious relation between dental health and heart diseases has become the centre of research and exploration among scientists and medical specialists. While there is still so much more to understand, the link between both has been proven over and over again. The consequences are severe, and there are a lot of factors that come into play, but perhaps a floss a day can keep the doctors at bay for quite a while.
Arthur Brown is a dad of 3 kids and is a keen writer covering a wide range of topics such as health, fitness, Internet marketing, and more! When not writing, he’s found behind a drum kit.