Flossing, brushing and heart disease

22 Jun

by Carolyn Thomas

Isn’t it enough that poor dental health can cause tooth loss,  pain, bleeding gums and bad breath?  Now Health Canada tells us that the state of our mouths is also linked with diabetes, respiratory disease, delivering premature or low-birth-weight babies, and, yes, even cardiovascular disease.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota agree.  Their report in the journal Circulation suggests that chronic infections, including periodontal (gum) infections, may predispose us to cardiovascular disease.

How strong is this link?  The Canadian Journal of  Dental Hygiene reports a low-to-moderate association between periodontal disease and heart disease, and a moderate association between periodontal disease and stroke.

One likely explanation for this is that periodontal disease allows bacteria to travel throughout the body via the bloodstream. People who suffer from gum disease are more susceptible to bleeding gums, creating an open pathway for bacteria to be released to the body. Once the bacteria are in our arteries, they can contribute to blood clot formations, obstructing normal blood flow and heart functioning, and increasing the risk for heart disease.

But the effects on women may be even more dangerous, because of ongoing changes in our oral health due to fluctuating hormone levels throughout puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause. The use of oral contraceptives can also contribute to these changes. And women produce less saliva than men; saliva is helpful in removing food residue from the teeth, and has anti-microbial properties that help maintain good teeth and gum health. A study published in The Journal of Periodontology reports that one quarter of women under age 55 have periodontitis (an advanced state of periodontal disease). And, almost half of women age 55 to 90 (who still have their teeth!) have periodontitis.  Here’s more on improving your oral hygiene from the Canadian Dental Association.

A European study recently reported that there may also be a genetic link between periodontal disease and heart disease.

Also, men produce more saliva than women — saliva is helpful in removing food residue from the teeth and has antimicrobial properties that help maintain dental health.
However, despite their natural advantages, the oral hygiene habits and standards of men are simply not up to those of women, according to the ADA. For starters, men are far less likely to schedule regular appointments to see the dentist. Men also tend to skimp on their basic brushing and flossing routines. Whereas nearly nine out of 10 (86%) of women brush two or more times each day and 56% floss at least once, just 66% of men brush twice or more daily and 41% floss at least once. Also, men replace toothbrushes less frequently — typically using a toothbrush for five months before tossing it in the trash, compared with every three to four months for women.

Despite men’s natural saliva and hormone advantages, the oral hygiene habits and standards of men lag far behind us, say those finger-wagging nags at the American Dental Association. For example, men are far less likely to schedule regular appointments to see the dentist. Men also tend to skimp on their basic brushing and flossing routines, such as:

  • Over  85% of women brush their teeth two or more times each day compared to just 66% of men
  • Over 55% of women floss their teeth at least once a day, versus 41% of men
  • Women replace their toothbrushes more frequently than men, typically using a toothbrush for three months before tossing it in the trash, compared with every 5-6 months for men
So snap open that brand new toothbrush and unearth the roll of floss at the back of your medicine cabinet.  A healthier mouth may just mean a healthier heart.
NEWS UPDATE, April 18, 2012: No Proof That Gum Disease Causes Heart Disease or Stroke – Despite popular belief, gum disease has not been proven to cause atherosclerotic heart disease or stroke, and treating gum disease hasn’t been proven to prevent heart disease or stroke, according to a new scientific statement published in Circulation, an American Heart Association journal.

Keeping teeth and gums healthy is important for your overall health. However, an American Heart Association expert committee — made up of cardiologists, dentists and infectious diseases specialists — found no conclusive scientific evidence that gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, causes or increases the rates of cardiovascular diseases. Current data don’t indicate whether regular brushing and flossing or treatment of gum disease can cut the incidence of atherosclerosis, the narrowing of the arteries that can cause heart attacks and strokes.
Observational studies have noted a strong association between gum disease and cardiovascular disease, and both produce markers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein, and share other common risk factors as well, including cigarette smoking, age and diabetes, but the 500 journal articles and studies reviewed by this committee didn’t confirm a causative link – once again remindig us of the motto of good science:
Correlation does not equal causation.
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3 Responses to “Flossing, brushing and heart disease”

  1. new balance December 22, 2009 at 2:37 pm #

    Hi Carolyn!
    I applaud your site for informing people about oral health and heart disease; very interesting article, keep it coming 🙂

    Like

  2. Mike M. June 25, 2009 at 5:42 pm #

    Why do I have an urge to go floss now? Loved your latest post, by the way.

    Like

  3. Mary June 23, 2009 at 8:35 pm #

    I wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your website.
    I’ll be subscribing – looking forward to more good info like this post about dental health.

    Like

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