Periodontal Disease and Heart Health
So, What's the Link? continued...
Some research suggests that the more bacteria you have from gum-disease, the thicker your carotid arteries may be. If they're too thick, blood can't flow to your brain. That can cause a stroke.
"Quite simply, the more bacteria you have in your body, the more the heart will be affected," Merritt says. "If we can reduce the long-term bacteria present in our bodies, I believe it will lower the risk factor to heart disease."
But both experts warn this doesn't mean you need to rush out for antibiotics before your next dental visit. Guidelines for antibiotic use before dental procedures have changed in recent years. If you take them when it's not necessary, you might find they don't work when you do need them. Ask your doctor if you need to take them.
Another Link to Consider
While bacteria likely play a role in dental heart health, doctors say your lifestyle choices are a factor, too.
"People with bad periodontal disease tend to have bad health habits in general," Boyden says. "They aren't taking care of themselves. Many are smokers. They probably aren't exercising; they may not be eating well. We know all of those things are some of the strongest predictors of heart disease."
A lot of people with periodontal disease also have diabetes, which is another strong risk factor for heart disease, he adds.
Brush Your Teeth, Boost Your Heart?
The American Heart Association says there's no evidence that you can prevent heart disease by preventing gum disease.
But it's important to get regular dental checkups -- including dental X-rays. You should also be sure to treat any gum disease early if you want to save your choppers and stay healthy. "If you are aggressive about treating your mouth health, your overall health gets better, too," Boyden says. So go ahead -- brush your teeth a bit longer or floss a little more often. Everyone likes a clean and healthy mouth, and maybe your heart just might love it, too.