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.
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
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.
Correlation does not equal causation.