It may surprise you to know that brushing your teeth and keeping your mouth healthy could actually save your life.
Many people aren’t aware that gum disease can increase your risk of all kinds of other health complications, including heart disease and heart attacks, with only one in three adults aware of the dangerous link.
Gum disease can essentially be stopped by using the correct brushing and flossing routine, but is estimated to affect more than half of all adults in the UK. The Children’s Dental Health Survey for England has found nearly half of eight-year-olds and a third of five-year-olds have signs of decay in their milk teeth too, caused by poor brushing and diet, which is a rather depressing finding.
Gum disease is an infection of the gums caused by a build-up of plaque bacteria on the teeth, these bacteria use the food and drink we eat to produce acids which cause tooth decay and the bacteria also irritates the gums causing them to bleed. Some bacteria in plaque are harmless, but some are extremely harmful for the gums and, if not removed by following a good oral hygiene routine, will build up and irritate your gums.
Symptoms of early onset gum disease or ‘gingivitis’ to look out for include red, sore and swollen gums and bleeding gums after brushing or flossing. As gum disease progresses, the tissues and bone that support the teeth can also become affected and can cause bad breath, an unpleasant taste in your mouth, loose teeth and potentially gum abscesses.
However, you may not have any symptoms, which makes those regular trips to the dentist all the more important.
So, what has this got to do with your heart? Intense gum inflammation can affect the bloodstream and is believed to slowly damage blood vessels in the heart and brain over a long period of time and, scientists believe, bacteria entering the bloodstream via the gums deposit a clot-forming protein. This can increase the risk of a heart attack in a number of ways, as inflamed blood vessels and blockages allow less blood to travel between the heart and the rest of the body, raising blood pressure. There’s also an increased risk that fatty plaque will break away from the wall of a blood vessel and travel to the heart or the brain, potentially causing a heart attack or stroke.
A recent study conducted by the European Society of Cardiology of more than 15,000 patients with chronic coronary heart disease found that indicators of gum disease, such as missing teeth and bleeding gums, were common and associated with numerous cardiovascular and socioeconomic risk factors.
On the other hand, a lower prevalence of tooth loss was associated with lower levels of heart disease risk factors, including lower blood glucose levels, systolic blood pressure and waist circumference.
Smoking and having a poor diet are known contributing factors to serious health issues such as diabetes or heart disease and are also linked to poor dental hygiene.
However, it’s not just heart disease that gum disease has close links to; it’s also associated with osteoporosis, stroke, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
So how can you prevent or treat gum disease? It’s vital that you follow a good oral hygiene routine, which includes brushing your teeth correctly for at least two minutes twice a day, cleaning between your teeth with floss or interdental brushes, using a mouthwash, visiting your dentist and dental hygienist regularly and following dietary advice, which can help to improve your overall health and reduce your risk of serious health problems.
Next time you pick up your toothbrush, remember that it’s not just a tool for achieving the perfect smile, but could help to save your life.
Matthew Lloyd, Dentist and Clinical Director of WhiteWash Laboratories