Could seeing your dentist for regular check-ups, brushing properly and flossing regularly save your life?

There are a lot of studies that suggest oral health may be related to other serious conditions! Conditions as serious as heart disease, to be exact. Sally Cram, spokeswoman for the American Dental Association, says everyone should make a special effort to prevent oral health problems. That’s particularly true for individuals who are at higher risk of heart disease.

No one should ever neglect proper oral care. The connection between heart disease and oral health is unclear, but signs of periodontal disease could be helpful early indicators of other problems. While individuals do not feel a build up of plaque in the arteries during the development of heart disease, they certainly notice bleeding gums.

One study found that the presence of common problems like missing teeth, gum disease and cavities were as good at predicting heart disease as cholesterol levels. And according to the American Academy of Periodontology, people with periodontal disease are twice as likely to have heart disease.

Conversely, Dr. Philippe Hujoel of the University of Washington in Seattle says that while there is a lot of good reason to floss, people should not be concerned that gum disease may cause heart disease. According to Dr. Hujoel the connection is unclear, because it has only been supported by a few small studies.

Theories of the connection between oral care and heart disease include the idea that organism leave the mouth and infect the heart. Another theory is that the microorganisms of the mouth contribute to fatty deposit build-up in the heart. The most plausible theory, however, is that the heart is weakened by any agents that find their way into the bloodstream that also cause inflammation. Constant inflammation is present in the case of gum disease.

Overall research has found that while people with gum disease may be more likely than those with healthy gums to experience a medical “event” related to heart disease when other factors such as smoking and obesity are taken into account, people with gum disease were not at a greater risk for developing heart disease.

“Some people strongly believe there is a link, but the evidence is pretty strong that we are looking at a small association,” says Hujoel, pointing out that his study did find a small link.

Dr. Andy Teng of the University of Western Ontario says just because there isn’t a causal connection doesn’t mean there isn’t some other kind of association. “Gum disease could be an important modifier of heart disease. I personally believe we are looking at something that would modify the heart disease progress, either slow it down or exacerbate the progression.”

Other experts agree. Jeffrey Ebersole, director of the Center for Oral Health Research at the University of Kentucky in Lexington says “This, in and of itself, is not enough to trip the balance, but if you superimpose upon that a number of other cardiovascular risks within a patient, that might be something that will push them off a cliff, relative to an event.”

It is clear to see that even with the slightest correlation between heart disease and oral health, proper oral hygiene is essential. Small changes or infections in one part of the body can impact other areas. The body is a finely tuned organism with each system reliant and dependent on the others. Needless to say, seeing your dentist regularly for check-ups, flossing and brushing properly are key components of proper dental care.

Dr. Mitchell Elkind of Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons says,  “If there is even a small association then, extrapolated over the number of people with gum disease in the U.S., that could be significant way to intervene and help people.”

“I think we all accept that there are many different risk factors and causes for heart disease, and the more risk factors you have the more likely you are to end up with a problem,” Elkind says. “Heart disease is such a prevalent disease, such an important process, that you wouldn’t want to miss even one small contributor and that it why it is worth not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

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