Bad Teeth, Bad Heart?

5 ways your teeth can help your heart

So how can you help yourself if the doctors can't even explain the connections? Start with the basics for good oral hygiene, including these five steps:

  1. Brush your teeth twice a day, every day, more if your dentist tells you to. Use fluoride toothpaste. Change your toothbrush or brush head every three or four months.
  2. Floss your teeth once a day to keep gums healthy and free of periodontal disease. You already may have gingivitis, a milder form of gum disease that includes bleeding or reddened gums. If gingivitis is left untreated, it can develop into the more severe periodontitis. If you brush and floss regularly and still have gum disease, ask your dentist for other options.
  3. Make that appointment. Brushing and flossing should be supported with regular professional dental cleanings twice a year. Your dentist can clean your teeth better than you can and can tell when other conditions such as dry mouth affect your teeth. If needed, your dentist can bring in the big guns, like prescription mouthwash or scaling and root planing, a deep cleaning of the gums.
  4. Quit smoking. Double or triple points for this one. Quitting smoking can help reduce your risk for heart disease, periodontal disease and oral cancers. If you smoke and have periodontal disease, it takes longer to heal after getting the disease treated.
  5. Keep bacteria under control. Some of the recent studies have connected higher levels of bacteria or signs of bacterial exposure with heart disease. When you get a prescription for antibiotics, finish it. Don't stop the drugs when you feel better. People with some heart conditions or artificial valves may need antibiotics before dental cleanings and some other dental procedures to prevent infection. Guidelines for this type of antibiotic prophylaxis changed in 2007, so check with your dentist or physician if you are not sure if you still need antibiotics.

Heart disease has numerous risk factors, some of which (gender and family history) are not in your control. Your dental health is. Following these steps will definitely help your teeth and gums and may help your heart. But remember, being rigorous with dental hygiene doesn't give you a free pass to ignore your heart health. For that, eat well, exercise regularly, get your weight under control and get your cholesterol and blood pressure checked regularly.

Reviewed by Andrew M. Sicklick, D.D.S.

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