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Preventing Gum Disease When You’re at Risk for Heart Disease

If you're at risk for heart disease or have it already, good oral hygiene is very important. It might seem strange, but gum disease seems to be linked with cardiovascular problems, like heart attacks and strokes.

How can you keep your gums healthy -- and maybe your heart? Get the facts here.

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Gum Disease and Heart Disease

Four out of 5 people in the U.S. have gum disease, or periodontal disease. It's caused by the buildup of bacteria in the mouth. Gingivitis is a mild form. Periodontitis is more severe; it can damage the bone and cause tooth loss.

Does gum disease cause heart disease? Studies show that people with gum disease are almost twice as likely to have coronary artery disease. Of course, these studies do not prove that periodontal disease is a direct cause of heart disease. It may be that people who don’t take good care of their teeth have poor lifestyle habits in general, which leads to an increased risk of heart disease.

But some experts believe that bacteria from the mouth could get into the blood and contribute to blocked arteries. These bacteria might also trigger inflammation throughout the body. When the arteries swell, they become narrower and prone to clogging.

If you're at risk for heart disease, it’s wise to play it safe. Here’s how:

Recognize the signs of gum problems

What should you watch for?

  • Swollen, red, painful, or bleeding gums
  • Receding gums -- which will make your teeth look longer than they used to
  • Sensitive or loose teeth
  • Painful chewing
  • Chronic bad breath or bad taste in the mouth

If you have any of these symptoms, don't ignore them. Schedule an appointment with a dentist or periodontist to get them checked out.

Brush properly

The toothbrush is one of the best weapons we have against gum disease. It helps clear plaque, a sticky combination of bacteria, acids, and bits of food. But a lot of us don't brush well. We might skip some days. Our technique might be rusty. (Is it up and down? Circular? Neither?) Or in a misguided attempt at thoroughness, we scrub our teeth as if we're refinishing furniture. That can tear up your gums, worsening gum disease.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that you brush lightly at a 45 degree angle with short, side-to-side strokes. Do it twice a day. Don't be bashful about asking your dentist or hygienist for a refresher during your next appointment. A good ADA-approved electric toothbrush can also help remove some of the guesswork.

Floss regularly

Flossing gets rid of the bacteria and plaque between the teeth, where brushes can't reach. While it's important for gum health, flossing is one of those things that many of us know we should do, but don't. One survey found that only about half of Americans floss daily.

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Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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