Most people understand that it’s important to maintain a healthy heart, and most people want a healthy, beaming smile. What you might not realize is that there’s a correlation between the two.
A growing body of research indicates that there’s a connection between heart disease and gum health. While findings have varied slightly, one thing is certain: Poor gum health puts people at a greater risk of developing heart conditions.
Here's a closer look at the connection between the two, and what you should be doing to keep both your teeth and your heart healthy.
The plaque attack
There are two types of plaque associated with gum disease and heart conditions. The plaque that builds up on your teeth is a sort of film that’s riddled with bacteria. The plaque that can build up in your arteries is made of fat, cholesterol, and other unhealthy substances in your blood. They may seem like two completely different things, but studies have found an interesting connection.
According to Harvard Medical School, people with gum disease are two to three times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. While there isn’t a ton of evidence to back this up yet, there are a few theories that are holding strong. One of the strongest is related to the relationship between periodontal disease, inflammation, and the heart.
Gum disease increases inflammation within the body, which can contribute to everything from cardiovascular disease to diabetes. The more strain inflammation puts on your heart, the more likely it is that you’ll experience a cardiovascular condition or even a cardiac emergency.
The bacteria found in the plaque on your teeth tend to break down during brushing. As it enters the bloodstream, it can also contribute to inflammation. Oral bacteria has been discovered in fatty deposits of people with cardiovascular conditions.
How to treat gum disease
If you’re concerned that your oral health may worsen any underlying heart issues, you need to take steps to prevent and treat gum disease.
Start with regular visits to your dentist. It’s not uncommon for people to avoid dental care because of medical anxiety. Whether you had a bad experience in the past or you’re fearful of specific procedures, look for ways to cope, so your dentist can care for your teeth properly and provide you with the right resources to keep your smile healthy.
Some of the best ways to cope with medical anxiety include:
Leaning on your support system
Using relaxation techniques
Seeking professional help
It’s especially important to get to the dentist if you have any of the symptoms of gum disease, including red, swollen gums or persistent bad breath.
Your dental hygienist can provide a daily oral care plan for you to follow. It will typically include things like how often to brush and floss, as well as foods to enjoy and avoid. For example, if you tend to have a “sweet tooth,” you might want to consider swapping out sugar for stevia. It’s less harmful to your teeth, which can help you avoid cavities, and even tastes sweeter than regular sugar. It can also be a great alternative if you’re trying to maintain a healthier lifestyle overall.
Don’t be ashamed to go to the dentist, even if you haven’t in years and you’re worried about the state of your oral health. It’s never too late to get the treatment you need. And it’s also a good idea to establish a plan with your dental provider sooner rather than later, to ensure that you’re taking care of your smile for years to come.
Focus on health
Prioritizing your overall well-being is one of the best things you can do, both for your heart and oral health. By making healthy lifestyle choices, you’re more likely to improve your heart health and your smile. That includes everything from eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables to exercising frequently.
Even if more research needs to be done, almost every aspect of your health and wellness is connected somehow. For example, regular physical activity can make you significantly less likely to develop gum disease. Poor oral health can also serve as an indicator of other conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, respiratory infections, and pneumonia.
Good oral health requires good overall health. Consider taking supplements to ensure both your heart and teeth are getting the nutrients they need, and try to avoid foods that are high in sugar or heavily processed.
Most important, prioritize personal care. Now that you understand the connection between a healthy smile and a healthy heart, the easiest way to achieve both is by focusing on your body as a whole unit, rather than strictly trying to improve parts of yourself.