Healthy teeth and gums for a healthier heart | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

You want to know one good reason daily brushing and flossing are necessary? Bad oral hygiene and gum disease like gingivitis double or triple the risk of heart attack and stroke.

This is one of the simple but neglected measures to prevent cardiovascular disease (CVD), which professor John Deanfield of the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences in London reminded his audience in his talk on CVD prevention. The conference was held in Berlin last week.

The data he presented showed that maintaining one’s dental hygiene also helps control diabetes, an established risk factor for CVD.

He stressed that exposure to several potentially modifiable risk factors begins at an early age, usually in childhood. By adolescence, there could be significant atherosclerosis or accumulation of fat plaques in the arterial walls that narrow its lumen.

This could lead to heart attack or stroke. So, CVD prevention should start preferably in childhood.

Many have this misconception that children need not be careful yet of their diet. Parents even give their kids the fat of animal meat or the crispy skin of fried chicken.

Obese children

Some parents don’t mind their children to be chubby and overweight—equating chubbiness with being healthy. Studies now show that the arteries of obese children age quickly, putting them at higher risk of developing cardiovascular complications.

So, developing a healthy lifestyle and good oral hygiene are simple but effective ways we can prevent children from developing CVD.

Atherosclerosis is a long-term (chronic) inflammation or swelling, and poor dental hygiene causing sustained and untreated swelling of the gums could trigger or aggravate the slow but sustained swelling in the arterial lining.

Dentists advise that regular toothbrushing and flossing after meals can prevent and even reverse an early stage of gum disease, known as gingivitis.

One should thoroughly brush one’s teeth and tongue for at least two minutes, followed by flossing, which sweeps away the sticky film between teeth to prevent plaque buildup.

One should also go to the dentist or hygienist twice a year for dental cleaning and checkup.

In a symposium in the Philippine Dental Association convention a few years ago, Dr. Cecille Jimeno, past president of the Philippine Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism— the association of specialists in diabetes and hormonal disorders in the country—explained the strong link between oral health and the development of diabetes.

The mechanism is basically the same as that in the development of cardiovascular disease. With bad teeth and swollen gums, inflammatory substances are released in the body which can promote the development of insulin resistance that leads to diabetes.

The development of diabetes could be the intermediate step in the development of heart disease. It is now well-
established that diabetes is a heart-disease equivalent. And any risk factor which causes diabetes can also cause heart disease.

There is early data also linking poor oral health to bone problems (osteoporosis), Alzheimer’s disease and all sorts of body infections due to a weakened immune system.

Teeming with bacteria

We may not realize it, but our mouth is a potential source of bacterial infection. As we can see in many TV ads promoting toothpastes, the mouth is teeming with bacteria.

The bacteria could get into the bloodstream and start to cause a slow but progressive swelling of the lining of the arteries, called endothelial dysfunction. This triggers a series of events leading to blockage of the artery and which can end in a heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, leg gangrene and other cardiovascular complications.

All of these do not happen overnight. It’s not the type of bacterial infection in the bloodstream characterized by high-grade fever and marked debility. It’s a slow, insidious process, and can take years or even decades to cause serious damage. But if one does not watch out, it might be too late to address the problem.

There are also some drugs like decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers and diuretics—which can reduce saliva flow and dryness of the mouth. Dryness of mouth can also stimulate bacteria proliferation.

Our saliva has a natural protective mechanism which helps wash away food particles. It also helps neutralize the acids formed by bacteria in the mouth. So, our saliva helps protect us from the overgrowth of bacteria in the mouth which can trigger the development of disease.

We should always be properly hydrated especially when taking in drugs that tend to promote dryness of the mouth.

Oral health is called the “window” to one’s overall health. Some dentists say, “Let me see what kind of teeth and gums you have, and I’ll tell you how healthy or unhealthy you are.” Let’s make sure we always keep our “window” in good condition.

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