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Heart Disease and Gum Disease

What Your Smile Says About Your Health

The next time you forget to floss, remember: What’s good for your gums is good for your heart.

Gum disease increases the risk of heart attack by 49%. People with gum disease, or periodontal disease, are two to three times more likely to have a serious cardiovascular event like a stroke or heart attack. Treatment of gum disease has also been linked to a decrease in blood pressure.

Gum disease is characterized by inflammation of the gum tissue.

“Inflammation in your mouth is directly related to inflammation in your heart,” says Northwestern Medicine Interventional Cardiologist Jacob Stephen, MD. “While we’re still trying to understand this relationship, we know that gum disease and heart disease, particularly coronary heart disease, often go hand-in-hand.”

Two theories may explain this correlation:

Lifestyle. Many experts speculate the link between gum disease and heart disease may be related to lifestyle factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol use, lack of exercise, unhealthy diet and poor overall health.“Smoking worsens inflammation in the mouth and in the heart,” says Dr. Stephen. “There is overlap between lifestyle factors that contribute to both poor oral hygiene and poor heart health.”

Inflammation. Gum disease is often caused by bacteria. “There is a theory that the bacteria in your mouth passes into your blood stream,” says Dr. Stephen. “Your body reacts with an inflammatory response that can cause cardiovascular damage, from blood clots and narrowing of blood vessels to heart attack and stroke.”

Reduce Your Risk

It’s important to note that many people with heart disease have healthy gums, and many people with periodontal disease do not have cardiovascular complications. There is not enough data to prove that treating gum disease will help treat heart disease. However, this correlation leads many cardiologists like Dr. Stephen to advocate for a simple lifestyle adjustment: Brushing and flossing your teeth.

“In a study that looked at factors contributing to longevity, flossing made the list among exercise and eating a heart-healthy diet,” says Dr. Stephen. “We’ve observed that having good oral hygiene may reduce your risk of a major coronary event.”

So, the next time you brush and floss, do it for your heart as well as your smile.

Featured Experts

Jacob Stephen, MD
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