Taking care of our teeth and gums is important for a healthy mouth and beautiful smile. Proper oral hygiene includes brushing and flossing daily and routine visits to your dentist for x-rays of your mouth, an exam and cleanings. Keeping up with good oral hygiene can help prevent health problems such as cavities, gum disease and bad breath. But the benefits do not stop there. Oral health is also linked to whole body wellness and in particular heart health. In a study conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it was found that nearly half of American adults aged 30 and older have some stage of gum disease. Prevention of gum disease can be a factor in protecting our hearts.
Like many areas of our bodies, our mouth has bacteria present – most of which are harmless bacteria, but some bacteria may cause a risk to our health. Typically, our body’s natural defenses combined with good oral care will be enough to keep bacteria under control and our mouths healthy. However, if oral care is not kept up, bacteria can reach levels that may lead to oral infections, such as tooth decay and gum disease. It is suspected that the bacteria that infect the gums and causes gum disease, such as gingivitis and periodontitis, can also travel throughout the body, triggering potential inflammation in the heart’s vessels and infection in the heart valves, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. These infections and inflammation can potentially trigger sudden vascular events as well.
In addition, certain medications that may be taken to treat high blood pressure and heart disease can cause dry mouth and reduce saliva flow. When the salivary glands do not produce enough saliva to keep the mouth wet, tooth decay accelerates. Saliva washes away food and neutralizes acids produced by bacteria in the mouth, helping to protect your teeth and gums and remove bacteria that can lead to gum disease. This potential side effect of medications should be discussed with your health care professional to help manage this potential risk factor for gum disease. If experiencing dry mouth, you may need to place more attention on proper oral care and possibly additional oral care.
Prevention is the first step in maintaining a healthy mouth and heart. Whether you have heart disease or not, it is important to have regular dental cleanings and exams as part of your long-term preventative care. You should see a dentist at least every 6 months for an exam and cleaning. If you are experiencing any pain, loose teeth, chronic bad breath, mouth sores that won’t go away, bleeding gums or swelling, call to make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible, as these may be signs that an infection may be present or could potentially start if treatment isn’t received. Treating mild gum disease, gingivitis, early can reduce the risk of potential spreading of the bacteria that can affect your heart. It is important to get regular exams of your mouth by your dentist just as you need regular exams of your body by your doctors.
Tips for good oral hygiene
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day. Use fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush. Be sure to brush all teeth surfaces, including the backs and sides.
- Replace your toothbrush every 3-4 months or sooner if the bristles are worn.
- Floss once a day. Brushing alone will not reach the spaces between your teeth. Be sure to floss after eating if any food gets stuck in between your teeth.
- Brush your tongue. Your tongue holds bacteria like a sponge, so it is important to brush it also. You can simply use your toothbrush, or you can purchase a tongue scraper.
- Use an antibacterial mouthwash every day. Antibacterial mouth wash helps to keep the harmful bacteria at bay. It can also help wash away food and reduce plaque buildup. Be sure to choose an alcohol-free type to prevent dry mouth.
- Visit your dentist regularly. Routine dental exams and cleanings are essential for good oral health. Most people will do fine with a visit to the dentist every 6 months but if you are prone to cavities, gum disease or other oral health problems, you may need more frequent appointments.
- Eat a healthy diet. Limit added sugars in food and drinks.
- Avoid smoking and other tobacco products. Smoking is the leading cause of gum disease. If you currently smoke, ask your health care provider about treatment options to help you quit.
The advantages of good oral hygiene are not only healthier teeth, gums and a beautiful smile, they go further and can help protect your heart.