From the Goodness of the Tooth: Could Your Mouth Put You at Risk for Heart Disease?

February could be called the month of the heart.

Last week, because of Valentine’s Day, you may have seen heart-shaped balloons in your office, or received heart-shaped candy boxes from your special someone. Plus, February kicked off with Women’s Heart Week. And the month overall has been designated American Heart Month.

A little knowledge about the heart can go a long way, as heart disease is a major issue.

Why Heart Disease Is a Threat You’ll Want to Take to Heart

Heart disease has been the leading cause of deathheart-month-400-522311541 in the United States since 1921, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Coronary artery disease is very common, with 3 million cases in the United States a year, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American women, according to the Women’s Heart Foundation. Overall, African American men, especially those in the southeast region of the United States, are at greatest risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As it turns out, the way we treat our mouths might affect the health of our hearts.

Are Your Oral Health Habits Affecting Your Heart?

Several studies indicate a possible connection between gum disease and heart disease.

For example, if you have gum disease, you are 28 percent more likely to have a heart attack, according to a 2016 study by the Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden.

This could be in part because gum and heart disease share a lot of the same risk factors: smoking, older age, low-income status and obesity.

Some researchers claim bacteria in the gum tissues can actually contribute to clogged arteries. This is because bacteria in the gums might enter the bloodstream and lodge themselves to blood vessels. This buildup could inhibit the flow of blood through the heart.

Six Simple Habits to Improve Your Oral and Heart Health

Whether a connection exists between oral and heart health, healthy living is always a smart idea. To improve oral and heart health, practice these six habits:

  • Brush twice a day and floss daily. You can cut down on gum disease by brushing twice a day and flossing daily. Brush for at least two minutes each time. Flossing is especially good for the gums. A daily routine can toughen up the gums to prevent bleeding. It also removes plaque, which contributes to gum disease, from the spaces between the teeth.
  • Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated can rinse away food particles and ensure proper saliva production. When you drink water, try to drink tap water. Tap water contains fluoride, which strengthens enamel and can protect your teeth against bacteria. Drinking water not only helps teeth, it helps with every metabolic process in the body, so you can maintain a healthy weight. Too much weight makes the heart pump harder, which can lead to heart disease.
  • Eat healthy. Cut sugar and white flour from your diet. Replace them with fruits and vegetables like pears, apples, carrots and celery, which can stimulate the gums or at least prevent them from receding. Foods rich in protein like cheese and nuts can restore proper pH levels in your mouth. A healthy diet can also help you maintain a healthy weight and thus prevent heart disease.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking can stain teeth. Worse, it deprives the gums of nutrients and oxygen and can cause the gums to recede. It also hurts the heart, by damaging the lining of your arteries.
  • Exercise regularly. This might be a more heart-specific habit, but exercise is one method for maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Visit your dentist. Schedule at least two checkups a year with your dentist. Not only will your teeth be clean, which helps prevent gum disease, your dentist might spot other health problems in your body before they become major issues.

February may be the month of the heart, but you can show love to your heart and smile all year long!

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