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American Heart Month: The role oral health plays

Woman smiles while holding hands in the shape of a heart.
In recognition of American Heart Month (February), know the relationship between oral health and heart health.
Graphic of a tooth inside a heart to show the relationship between oral health and heart health.
Research has shown periodontal disease increases the risk of heart disease
The Periodontics Clinic at UTSD.
The Periodontics Clinic at UTSD. Periodontists are dentistry's experts in treating periodontal disease. Photo by Brian Schnupp.

Brush twice a day, floss daily, and rinse with mouthwash. All common practices of proper oral hygiene. However, did you know these practices could help your heart?

February is American Heart Month, and research has shown periodontal disease (gum disease) increases the risk of heart disease.

“The idea of oral health and heart health being connected isn’t a new concept,” said Professor Nikola Angelov, DDS, PhD, chair of the Department of Periodontics and Dental Hygiene. “While a causative relationship hasn’t been proven, there’s an association between periodontal disease and atherosclerotic changes.”

Periodontitis, an inflammatory disease of the supporting tissue of the teeth, is the sixth most common human disease, according to a 2020 study published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology.

Atherosclerotic changes (narrowing of arteries) have been identified as the underlying cause of most heart problems, and a study in 2008 noted, “Having periodontitis contributes to the total infectious and inflammation burden and may contribute to cardiovascular events and stroke.”

Angelov likens this connection to stoking the fire, as periodontitis can exacerbate existing heart conditions. He stresses oral health is fundamental to heart and overall health.

“The better you are with your oral hygiene, the better you’ll be in life,” Angelov said. “Brushing your teeth isn’t a license to not exercise, but taking care of your mouth, in addition to your physical health, will ultimately help your heart.”

Luckily, periodontitis is preventable. According to the American Academic of Periodontology, adding these daily habits can help:

  • Brush your teeth. Brushing helps remove food debris and plaque trapped between teeth and gums, and brushing the tongue helps remove bacteria.
  • Floss. Flossing at least once a day helps remove food particles and plaque between teeth and along the gum line that a toothbrush can’t quite reach.
  • Swish with mouthwash. Using mouthwash can help reduce plaque and can remove remaining food particles that brushing and flossing missed.
  • Know your risk. Age, smoking, diet, and genetics can all increase risk of periodontal disease.
  • See a periodontist. An annual comprehensive periodontal evaluation (CPE) looks at teeth, plaque level, gums, bite, bone structure, and other risk factors for periodontal disease.

The Periodontics Clinic at UTSD offers CPE and a range of other services for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of gum disease and the bone surrounding and supporting the teeth.

For more information about the Periodontics Clinic, call 713-486-4048.

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