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Periodontal Disease and Heart Health

Brushing and flossing may actually save your life.

Could Periodontal Disease Cause Heart Attacks? continued...

If you're at risk of heart disease, do the obvious:

  • Lose weight if you're overweight
  • Eat healthy foods
  • Exercise most days of the week
  • Control any conditions that increase risk, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure

But Cram of the ADA argues that everyone should make a special effort to prevent oral health problems. That's especially true, she says, for people who are at higher risk of developing heart disease. And Douglass adds that if you already have periodontal disease, you certainly shouldn't ignore it. In many cases, you may just need to learn better brushing and flossing habits. More advanced cases of periodontal disease may require a trip to the dentist for a careful cleaning of the roots of the teeth, called scaling and root planning, or surgery.

"I think the evidence indicates that you should clear up any periodontal disease," Douglass tells WebMD. "It's fairly easy to do, and why not get rid of a potential risk factor for heart disease?"

He also stresses that people who have heart problems or recently had cardiac surgery may need to take antibiotics before having any dental procedures. Medication will lower the risk that bacteria from the mouth will wind up infecting the tissues of the heart, causing a dangerous condition called endocarditis.

For most people, however, Douglass says that sticking with commonsense tips can head off problems. "If you keep your mouth clean, it's very hard for the bacteria that cause periodontal disease to get started," he says. You'll also reap other benefits -- fewer fillings, healthier gums, and a brighter smile.

"We've always known that a little prevention goes a long way, but we used to think of it in terms of avoiding cavities and things like that," says Cram. "Now it seems that by using your toothbrush and your floss, you might also be preventing much more serious health problems down the road."

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