BOSTON, MA — The billions of bacteria and other microscopic critters that live in the mouth unquestionably influence the health of teeth and gums. But do they also cause problems for the heart and blood vessels? And can improving oral health prevent cardiovascular problems?
The notion that problems in the mouth cause diseases elsewhere in the body makes sense but has been difficult to prove, explains the Harvard Heart Letter. Scientists are exploring several mechanisms that may connect the two processes. In people with periodontitis (erosion of tissue and bone that support the teeth), chewing and toothbrushing release bacteria into the bloodstream. Several species of bacteria that cause periodontitis have been found in the atherosclerotic plaque in arteries in the heart and elsewhere. This plaque can lead to heart attack.
Oral bacteria could also harm blood vessels or cause blood clots by releasing toxins that resemble proteins found in artery walls or the bloodstream. The immune system's response to these toxins could harm vessel walls or make blood clot more easily. It is also possible that inflammation in the mouth revs up inflammation throughout the body, including in the arteries, where it can lead to heart attack and stroke.
Although we sill have a lot to learn about whether, and how, periodontitis and other oral problems are linked to heart disease, the Harvard Heart Letter notes that it still makes good sense to take care of your teeth. Brush and floss every day, and see your dentist at least twice a year for regular cleanings and oral exams. This will pay off for your oral health and just may benefit your heart as well.