Our goal here at Discovery Health Publishing is to deliver answers to the questions that most concern you – our readers. For example, I recently answered a question readers had about herbs for menopause.
Another reader recently contacted me about the connection between oral health and heart health. Is the connection really there? she asked. And, if so, what’s the best way to defend your heart?
As you can probably imagine, the answer is not as simple as we’d like. But here’s what you should know about oral health and heart health. And how to get the strongest defenses available.
Are Oral Health and Heart Health Linked?
The short answer is “yes.” But, from there, things get a little cloudy.
Back in 2007, a University of Michigan professor tried to address this issue. Prof. Walter Loesche found a link… but saw several ways that link might operate.
Prof. Loesche found higher levels of certain bacteria related to gum disease in people with heart issues. Loesche also found studies show people with gum disease have higher levels of CRP – C-reactive protein – a marker of higher heart risk.
Research from the State University of New York, Buffalo, found DNA from as many as four damaging oral bacteria in people’s blood vessel walls. The University of Michigan team has also found DNA evidence of oral pathogens in “clogs” located in arteries.
These are just a few recent findings of a connection between oral health and heart health.
A 2013 study of 5,900 people found links between the risk of heart disease and oral health. In this study, people at higher risk of heart disease were also more likely to have oral health issues.
The authors couldn’t pinpoint a cause-and-effect situation. But there was a clear link between oral health and heart health.
According to reports from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), there is a link…
“People who have gum disease,” Michael Skilton of the University of Sydney told ABC, “are at about twice the risk of developing heart disease than people who don’t have gum disease.”
Skilton believes there’s evidence the bacteria that causes advanced gum disease – periodontitis – also promotes heart disease. For one thing, these bacteria may be involved in the formation of plaque build-up in your arteries.
So what’s the best way to cut your risk?
The Truth on Brushing, Flossing, and Oral Irrigation
Most dentists recommend brushing your teeth twice a day, plus flossing. Why? Not because of the evidence.
In fact, a 2008 analysis of studies by Dutch dentists came to a shocking conclusion. Most studies have found no real benefit to flossing. Flossing failed in most studies to reduce plaque or gingivitis in patients who brushed regularly.
Their final conclusion? “In light of the results of this comprehensive literature search and critical analysis, it is concluded that a routine instruction to use floss is not supported by scientific evidence.”
That same year, another Dutch team compared oral irrigation (with products such a “Waterpik”®) to brushing alone. The results were very similar to the flossing review.
After reviewing over 900 studies and papers, they found oral irrigation didn’t reduce plaque more than just brushing. And only a slight “trend” towards less gingivitis.
In other words, neither of these added activities seem to do much more than brushing alone.
Should You Do More Than Brush?
The bottom line here is that neither flossing nor oral irrigation will hurt you (unless you floss too aggressively). And each may offer a small boost to oral health.
Chances are your dentist recommends one or the other in addition to regular brushing. And it’s unlikely you’ll change their minds… even with copies of the studies in hand.
So it’s probably easier just to go along. After all, flossing is cheap and doesn’t take much time.
If you wear braces or have extensive bridgework, an oral irrigation device may be a better – though more expensive – option.
In the end, though, your best oral defense against heart trouble appears to be simply brushing twice a day for two minutes.
About the Author: Jason Kennedy is a celebrated investigative health writer and the author of The X-Factor Revolution and Beyond the Blue Zone. With over 10 years of experience working with today’s leading alternative and anti-aging doctors, Jason shares his insider status and access to the latest breakthroughs with thousands of readers from around world.
“Real connection between oral health and heart disease,” University of Michigan. Apr 17, 2007.
Najafipour, H., et al, “Association of Oral Health and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors ‘Results from a Community Based Study on 5900 Adult Subjects,’ ” ISRN Cardiol. 2013; 2013: 782126.
Bullen, J., “Are healthy teeth linked to a healthy heart?” Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Nov 30, 2017.
Berchier, C.E., et al, “The efficacy of dental floss in addition to a toothbrush on plaque and parameters of gingival inflammation: a systematic review,” Int J Dent Hyg. Nov 2008; 6(4): 265-279.
Husseini, A., et al, “The efficacy of oral irrigation in addition to a toothbrush on plaque and the clinical parameters of periodontal inflammation: a systematic review,” Int J Dent Hyg. Nov 2008; 6(4): 304-314.
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