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Gum Trouble? Your Heart May Be Next

There's mounting evidence that brushing, flossing, regular dental checkups and a healthy diet play a role in good cardiovascular health.

Chronic periodontal disease -- which is caused by a number of oral bacteria -- appears to set off an inflammatory process that exacerbates and contributes to the buildup of cholesterol-rich plaque on artery walls.

The presence of a chronic infection in the mouth is very similar to a chronic infection anywhere else in the body, in that it puts stress on our body's response system. The body responds to this stress by sending certain biochemical elements through the bloodstream, which create the plaque.

People with chronic infections -- and gum disease is one of the major chronic infections -- are at increased risk later in life for atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and coronary heart disease.

Some tips to keep bacteria from setting up house in your gums:

  • Get an oral exam. A dentist can detect gum disease, gauge its severity, and order treatment such as bacterial removal via scaling and root-planing.
  • Brush and floss regularly. The more frequently food is kept away from teeth, the better, since regular cleaning robs oral bacteria of the nutrients they crave.
  • Reduce snacking. Every snack delivers a fresh meal to germs that are hard at work destroying teeth and gums. If snacking is unavoidable, at least avoid refined carbohydrates and other processed foods. Fresh, whole vegetables and fruits are the best snacks for oral health.
Taking care of your teeth is a necessary part of good health and quality of life -- and may have a protective effect on your cardiovascular system. Source: Beck, JD et al, Systemic Effects of Periodontitis: Epidemiology of Periodontal Disease and Cardiovascular Disease, J Periodontol. 2005 Nov;76(11-s):2089-2100