Does Your Oral Health Impact Your Heart Health?

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Did you know that having gum (or periodontal) disease can make you two to three times more likely to experience heart problems, including heart attacks and strokes? While research is ongoing, recent studies have highlighted a close connection between oral hygiene and heart health.

Keep reading to learn how oral health affects your cardiovascular system, and what you can do to keep your whole body smiling.

Oral hygiene and heart health: are they connected?

Oral hygiene and cardiovascular health are connected due to the spread of bacteria.

“The most common source of chronic inflammation in the entire body–in fact, the number one inflammatory disease process in the body–is gum disease,” says Dr. Chris Kammer, founder of the American Academy for Oral Systemic Health.

We all have an oral microbiome: a collection of bacteria living in our mouths. Normally, these bacteria are harmless, even beneficial. But when pathogenic bacteria outnumber beneficial microbes and enter the bloodstream, they can travel to the heart and contribute to inflammation.

Inflammation is a known precursor to conditions like insulin sensitivity, diabetes, and the buildup of fatty plaque in arteries, thereby increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Researchers even have found some of the same pathogens known to cause oral diseases in the arteries surrounding the heart of cardiovascular disease patients. Bacteria from the gums can easily find their way into the bloodstream–even without obvious open sores in the mouth. 

According to Dr. Kammer, even minor bleeding in the gums can be as significant as a wound the size of a fifty-cent piece, cumulatively. That means those tiny sores add up to a large gateway for bacteria to enter the circulatory system.

The oral microbiome and heart health 

Conventional oral care has largely focused on killing all bacteria in the mouth, often using alcohol and other harsh antiseptics. But these chemicals kill “good” bacteria along with the “bad,” disrupting the delicate balance of the oral microbiome. This approach can be harmful when used regularly, contributing to a multitude of health problems. 

The oral microbiome is essential, not just for healthy teeth and digestion, but also the salivary immune system. Salivary glands are integral to our immune response, housing immune cells like B cells, T cells, and macrophage, which contain immunoglobulins (proteins that function as antibodies and are vital for fighting pathogens).

This connection is crucial because of the intricate interplay between our circulatory and immune systems. These systems communicate through cytokines, hormones, and neurotransmitters, and any imbalance can lead to inflammation and tissue damage, which can cause heart problems.

Related:   Walking to Prevent Heart Disease: Exercise for a Healthy Heart

This is why oral hygiene isn’t just about caring for teeth and gums but about supporting your overall health. Maintaining a balance of “good” bacteria and ensuring healthy immune cell function in your mouth fights systemic inflammation, helping to safeguard your heart. 

Tips to boost oral and heart health

Regular brushing and flossing, along with frequent dental check-ups, are essential for the wellness of your mouth and your entire body. 

Here are some tips to support your oral microbiome, and in turn, protect your heart and overall health.

Use antioxidant oral care products

Antioxidants are molecules that fight bacteria and neutralize free radicals (unstable molecules that can harm your cells), which play a major role in inflammation and gum diseases like periodontitis.

Look for toothpastes and other oral care products that are free from harsh chemicals and rich in antioxidants, such as:

  • Vitamin C
  • Coenzyme Q10 
  • Vitamin E
  • Folic acid
  • MSM 

Use xylitol

Many natural toothpastes now contain xylitol, a natural sugar alcohol that has sparked debate among dental professionals. 

While some dentists are concerned about its effects on the gut and oral microbiomes, research shows that xylitol fights harmful bacteria like Streptococcus mutans, which has been linked to tooth decay and even certain heart conditions.

Xylitol prevents bacteria from sticking to teeth, reducing plaque formation. Unlike regular sugar, it doesn’t break down in a way that lowers saliva’s pH. Instead, it helps maintain a more neutral pH level in the mouth, preventing acidic conditions that can lead to tooth decay. It’s also known to help repair and remineralize tooth enamel.

Use probiotics

Probiotics play an important role in supporting oral health by introducing beneficial bacteria into the mouth (similar to their role in gut health). They help protect teeth and gums, reduce inflammation, and prevent harmful bacteria from damaging enamel and sensitive tissues.

Probiotics lower the pH in the mouth, inhibiting dental plaque formation that can contribute to periodontal disease. They’re also known for their antioxidant production.

Some specific probiotic strains that benefit oral health include:

  • Lactobacillus salivarius
  • L. reuteri
  • L. acidophilus
  • L. rhamnosus
  • L. casei
  • Bifidobacillus

The most effective way to deliver probiotics to the oral microbiome is via lozenges or chews, according to some dentists. But you can also support your oral and heart health by eating probiotic-rich foods such as:

  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Fermented pickles and other vegetables
  • Plain, fermented yogurt
  • Kefir
Related:   7 Health Issues Caused by Bad Oral Health

Eat nutritious foods

Your diet plays a crucial role in every facet of your health, including the balance of bacteria in your mouth. Eating the right foods can combat harmful bacterial buildup and protect your cardiovascular system.

Avoid inflammatory, pathogenic-bacteria-feeding foods like refined sugars and simple carbohydrates. Instead, focus on anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich foods. Some excellent choices include:

  • Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, cabbage, and kale
  • Cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower
  • Fruit, such as apples, berries, and grapefruit
  • Fatty fish, including salmon and tuna
  • Healthy fats like avocado and olive oil

Unhealthy gums, “bad teeth,” and heart issues can go hand in hand. So, use the above tips to care for your oral microbiome, and you’ll be taking a big step toward living a longer, healthier life.

Remember: proper oral hygiene is about more than brushing for a bright smile and fresh breath.  It’s about a protecting your cardiovascular system for total-body wellness.

Unlock Dr. Gator’s 35-page Family Gut Health Guide, and learn practical strategies to nurture your child’s gut health!

Click here

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Related:   Heart Disease can be Controlled

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Author
Carrie Solomon

Carrie Solomon is a freelance health writer, copywriter, and passionate wellness enthusiast. She’s on a mission to help wellness-focused companies educate, engage, and inspire their audiences to make the world a healthier, happier place. Learn more about her at copybycarrie.com or on LinkedIn.

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