Remember Your Teeth—Your Heart Will Thank You
I’ve said many times that cardiovascular disease is our number one killer. Cancer gets most of the attention, but ordinary heart disease is still the top threat to life and health in the United States. We’re talking about heart attack and stroke. It’s called cardiovascular disease because the trouble begins in the blood vessels, long before it affects heart function, or leads to a debilitating stroke. Atherosclerosis, which affects the linings of blood vessels, is an inflammatory condition that underlies cardiovascular disease.
In the past few decades we’ve made huge strides in preventing and treating cardiovascular disease. We’ve identified behaviors—avoiding smoking, getting regular exercise, and eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables—that can decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. We’ve finally figured out that artificial food products, like trans fats are toxic to blood vessels. Fortunately, these “foods” have largely been removed from the marketplace (although they still turn up in things like prepared cake frostings and shelf-stable baked goods—and should be avoided at all costs).
One cardiovascular risk factor that doesn’t get much attention, though, is dental disease. Periodontitis, or inflammation of the gums, has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Regular brushing and flossing go a long way towards preventing this common condition, but you also need to see a dentist regularly. Routine teeth cleanings, performed by a dental hygienist, should be an important part of your health regimen. By avoiding periodontitis, you eliminate a significant source of potential inflammation in the body. And that means a reduced risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.
American Heart Association (2012, April 18). Specific protein may increase risk of blood-vessel constriction linked to gum disease. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 6, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2012/04/120418162252.htm
López NJ, Quintero A, Casanova PA, Ibieta CI, Baelum V, López R. Effects of periodontal therapy on systemic markers of inflammation in patients with metabolic syndrome: a controlled clinical trial. J Periodontol. 2012 Mar;83(3):267-78. doi: 10.1902/jop.2011.110227. Epub 2011 Jul 12.
Tawakol A, Fayad ZA, Mogg R, Alon A, Klimas MT, Dansky H, et al. Intensification of statin therapy results in a rapid reduction in atherosclerotic inflammation: results of a multicenter fluorodeoxyglucose-positron emission tomography/computed tomography feasibility study. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2013 Sep 3;62(10):909-17. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2013.04.066. Epub 2013 May 30.