The Weird Link Between Your Toothbrush and Your Heart Health - Healthy Living Association

The Weird Link Between Your Toothbrush and Your Heart Health

Your oral health could be the missing link in your healthy lifestyle. Having a clean mouth might have positive effects beyond good breath and a nice smile. In fact, it could help you avoid heart disease and stroke! Today it’s all about how your toothbrush can improve your cardiovascular health.

What is cardiovascular disease?

As of 2021, cardiovascular diseases are the worldwide leading mortality cause [1]. Most people affected show major cardiovascular events like strokes and myocardial infarction. However, ‘heart disease’ is in fact a series of different conditions that affect the circulatory system. These conditions can include:

  • Blood vessel disease
  • Issues with heart rhythm
  • Genetic conditions that affect the heart
  • Heart valve conditions
  • Disease of the cardiac muscle
  • Heart infection

Of course, all of these cannot be lumped together and they can have very different causes. However, physicians know specific lifestyle habits can increase your risk. These risky behaviors include leading a sedentary life, being overweight, smoking and having a poor diet. Other conditions, called comorbidities, also increase your chances of suffering from heart disease. Common comorbidities include suffering from diabetes, coronary disease, high blood pressure and drug use.

Surprisingly, researchers also found that poor oral health can also increase your heart disease risk, in particular your risk of heart infection. Here’s what you should know.

How oral health affects your heart

A study published in 2006 found that gum disease appeared to increase stroke risk. Researchers from the University of Helsinki, in Norway, found that chronic exposure to a specific pathogen increased stroke risk up to 2.3 times [3].

According to the authors, consistent exposure to P. gingivalis, the main microbe responsible for gum disease, was an independent risk factor for stroke [3]. This correlation remained strong in both men and women.

P. Gingivalis is better known for its role in periodontitis. These studies found a direct relationship between periodontal bacteria and undiagnosed atherosclerosis [2]. On the flip side, other studies have found a positive effect in treating periodontal disease in cardiovascular outcomes. This means that for many patients, treating periodontitis can help lower their stroke risk [4].

Why do oral pathogens affect the heart?

As of the writing of this piece, researchers are still unsure about the specific action mechanisms that link periodontal disease to heart conditions. What is clear is that heart disease is linked to infection in atheromatous plaques. These plaques are the leading cause of blood vessel heart disease [1] because they narrow the blood vessels and block blood flow. This can eventually lead to a heart attack.

P. gingivalis, the bacteria linked to gingivitis and periodontal disease, can infect those plaques. In turn, this increases inflammation and eventually lead to both stroke and heart infection. These bacteria are part of your mouth’s microbiome, meaning humans have it in some capacity. However, when the oral microbiome gets out of balance, P. gingivalis tends to grow too fast, causing infection and gum disease in the long term. Once the infection reaches the blood flow, this is called ‘bacteremia’ and is when the bacteria can infect the heart and blood vessels.

Risks factors associated to gum disease

While common, gum disease isn’t a healthy state and can be treated and prevented. On top of going to a yearly dental checkup, here are other factors you should look out for:

  • Age. The older you are, the more likely it is you have gum disease. In the US, more than 50% of adults have gingivitis, and 30% of the entire population has significant periodontal disease.
  • Smoking. In general, the duration and amount of nicotine consumption is linked to the severity of periodontal pathologies. It isn’t only the nicotine that can be damaging to your oral health: the heat from the smoke can aggravate teeth detachment and increase calculus deposits [5]. In fact, smokers are 11 times more likely than non-smokers to harbor unhealthy populations of bacteria in their mouths.
  • Poor oral hygiene. This is by far the greatest threat to your oral health. Lack of thorough brushing, improper technique, and having invasive oral procedures like surgery, can all heighten your gum disease risk.

How to improve your oral health to lower your risk

  • Brush frequently. It’s best if you do it after every meal and drink that isn’t water.
  • Floss. Your dentist tells you all the time, and it’s for a reason. Flossing at least once a day is linked to significantly lower gum disease risk [6].
  • Lower your sugar intake. Having a diet high in simple sugars and starches can harbor dangerous bacteria in your mouth’s microbiome [7]. A balanced diet will keep unhealthy populations in check.
  • Visit a dental professional. Ask your dentist or hygienist to assess your mouth on every examination. This includes evaluating your general hygiene, the amount of plaque, loose teeth and gum recession. If you have any of these, book an evaluation with your doctor to check for heart risk and avoid going undiagnosed.

References

  1. Mayo clinic. Heart disease. Available here.
  2. Dobson R. Gum disease may increase the risk of stroke. BMJ. 2006;333(7568):570. Available here.
  3. Pussinen et al. Systemic exposure to Porphyromonas gingivalis predicts incident stroke. Atherosclerosis, Volume 193, Issue 1, 222 – 228. 2006. Available here.
  4. Nakatani, S., et al. (2019). JCS 2017 guideline on prevention and treatment of infective endocarditis. Circulation Journal, 83(8), 1767-1809. Available here.
  5. Gao, L., et al. (2018). Oral microbiomes: more and more importance in oral cavity and whole body. Protein & cell, 9(5), 488-500. Available here.
  6. Eke, P. et al. (2020). Recent epidemiologic trends in periodontitis in the USA. Periodontology 2000, 82(1), 257-267. Available here.
  7. Orlandi, M., et al (2020). Periodontal therapy and cardiovascular risk. Periodontology 2000, 83(1), 107-124. Available here.

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