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.
As of 2021, cardiovascular diseases are the worldwide leading mortality cause . 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:
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.
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 .
According to the authors, consistent exposure to P. gingivalis, the main microbe responsible for gum disease, was an independent risk factor for stroke . 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 . 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 .
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  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.
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: