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Can Poor Dental Health Cause Heart Problems?

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By Apollo Pharmacy, Published on - 13 January 2022

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Our mouths harbour more than 6 billion bacteria. While some of these bacteria help in digesting food, others can cause harm to the teeth and other oral tissues. The count of bad bacteria is low for people with good oral hygiene, but the number increases for those who are lax about their oral health. Contrary to conventional beliefs, these harmful bacteria can not only damage teeth but also other vital organs, such as the heart.

 

How can poor oral health affect the heart?

 

Some harmful bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and strains of Streptococcus can enter the bloodstream through infected gums and reach the heart to cause damage. Doctors believe that these infectious bacteria can enter blood vessels while brushing vigorously or while picking teeth with a wooden toothpick.

Various studies have shown the link between different heart problems and poor oral hygiene, some of these studies include:

  • A review study published in the journal Archives of Pediatric Infectious Diseases in 2017 stated that inflamed and infected gums act as a portal for the bacteria to enter the bloodstream, and damage and infect the inner layer of the heart. This could result in life-threatening conditions like heart failure, heart attack, and stroke. 
  • A similar article published in the journal Dental Update in 2018 stated that bacteria can enter the bloodstream from dental infections and travel to the heart valves, resulting in endocarditis.
  • Another study presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions meeting in Chicago in 2018, involving 682 subjects found that people who brushed less than twice a day, for less than two minutes had a three-fold increased risk of developing a heart attack, heart failure or stroke compared to those brushed at least twice a day for two minutes.
  • A study published in the British Medical Journal found that out of the 9670 subjects, those with periodontitis had a 25% increased risk of developing coronary heart disease as compared to those with minimal periodontal damage.  

 

Who is at an increased risk?

 

Bacterial infections can affect anyone, but factors that can increase one’s risk include having:

  • Congenital heart defects
  • A defect in the heart valve
  • An artificial or prosthetic heart valve
  • A history of infective endocarditis

 

How to maintain oral health and lower the risk of heart diseases?

 

Maintaining good oral hygiene to reduce the bacterial count reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. Measures that may help include:

  • Brushing twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush. Do not brush vigorously, rather use a circular, light-handed motion to clean the teeth.
  • Flossing to clean the area between the teeth. Avoid the use of wooden toothpicks as they can push the microorganisms deep into the gums, allowing them to enter the bloodstream. 
  • Using a tongue cleaner to clean the upper surface of the tongue.
  • Swishing with 0.2% chlorhexidine mouthwash. 
  • Visiting a dentist every six months for a thorough oral examination. 

 

Patients with pre-existing medical conditions such as a history of stroke or heart diseases must inform their dentist about these conditions as well as the medications they consume before consenting to any dental procedure that involves the manipulation of gums, digging of teeth, or cutting of oral tissues. 

 

Conclusion

 

Several studies have concluded that ignoring oral health can increase the risk of developing heart diseases. It has been proven that bacteria growing in the mouth can enter the bloodstream and cause infection in the heart valves or tissues. Thus, it is advised to maintain good oral hygiene by regular brushing, flossing, and getting regular dental check-ups.

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