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Can Healthy Teeth Ward Off Heart Disease?

By Kathy Hubbard
It must have been the hundreds of heart-shaped box of chocolates in the market on Saturday that made me think about tooth decay. And, then I remembered reading an article about the correlation between dental health and heart health and thought, what a perfect topic for an article during American Heart Month!
But the analysis isn’t so perfect. According to WebMD, cardiologists and periodontists (the dentists who treat gum disease) say the research is inconclusive.
“It isn’t clear whether gum disease actually has a direct link to heart disease,” Robert Bonow, MD, past president of the American Heart Association and chief of cardiology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “There are threads of evidence but they’re not yet tied together. If it’s true that people with poor oral health have more heart attacks, it doesn’t mean the poor oral health leads to them. People with good oral hygiene may just be taking better care of themselves.”
Yeah. Those of us who brush and floss regularly also eat properly, exercise every day, manage our blood pressure and diabetes and don’t smoke. Right? Sure.
If you go to the Mayo Clinic’s website, they say that your oral health might affect, be affected by, or contribute to various diseases and conditions including endocarditis and cardiovascular disease.
“Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of your heart (endocardium). Endocarditis typically occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of your body, such as your mouth, spread through your bloodstream and attach to damaged areas of your heart.”
They go on to say that heart disease, clogged arteries and stroke might be linked to the inflammation and infections that oral bacteria can cause. Plus there are several other diseases and conditions that can be affected by gum infections.
People with diabetes may have a harder time controlling their blood sugar if they have periodontal disease and it’s also been linked to osteoporosis. They also say that people who lose their teeth before they’re 35 have a higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Pardon me while I find the toothpaste.
We all know that visits to the dentist on a regular basis are the key to a healthy mouth. Steven A. Ghareeb, DDS, FAGD at the Academy of General Dentistry gives us this advice on how to keep our smiles healthy and pretty by avoiding these five bad oral health habits.
1. Not flossing. “Brushing your teeth twice a day is important, but many patients don’t realize that flossing at least once a day is just as critical to achieving—and maintaining—a healthy smile. Flossing removes the cavity-causing bacteria left behind from food particles that get stuck between teeth.
2. Brushing too soon after eating. This one surprised me but, if you think about it, it makes sense. “Consuming acidic foods and beverages, such as sports and energy drinks, citrus fruits, wine, and tomatoes can erode tooth enamel. Brushing your teeth too soon after eating and drinking can cause more damage because you are essentially brushing the acid into the teeth.” Instead he says to rinse your mouth with water and to wait 30 minutes before brushing.
3. Not replacing your toothbrush often enough. Aren’t we all guilty of this? But, it just doesn’t render it useless, there is a build-up of bacteria on that old splay-bristled toothbrush that can cause infections. Change it. Every three to four months and always after you’ve had a cold or flu.
4. Excessively bleaching your teeth. “Overzealous bleaching can cause your teeth to look unnaturally white and increase tooth sensitivity. Before using an at-home bleaching product, talk to your dentist,” Dr. Ghareeb said.
5. Using a hard-bristled toothbrush. “A hard-bristled toothbrush coupled with an aggressive brushing technique can cause irreversible damage to your gums,” Dr. Ghareeb said. “Use a soft toothbrush and gently brush your teeth at a 45-degree angle, in a circular motion.”
The one he didn’t mention is the one that’s also very important. Share that box of chocolates, but don’t share your toothbrush. If you just said, “ewwww,” I’m glad.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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