If you want a gleaming, healthy smile, the first and most obvious step is to pay close attention to your dental hygiene and health. More than that, though, keeping your mouth healthy can have an even bigger impact on your body. Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the U.S., claiming over 600,000 lives per year. Over time, researchers have shown a link, if not direct causation, between dental health and heart disease. While direct causation has yet to be determined, gum disease and heart disease share some of the same risk factors- smoking, poor nutrition, diabetes, and overall lack of self-care.

One hypothesis for the correlation between gum and heart health is that bacteria from the mouth can spread throughout the body, which, in turn, can worsen inflammatory conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and even rheumatoid arthritis. Gingivitis, the beginning stages of gum disease, is an inflammatory response to bacteria in the mouth; likewise, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries of the heart) has a large inflammatory component.  However, it’s also believed that the link could be coincidental- that people who tend to take better care of their mouths, also have healthier habits overall, such as exercising and making better food decisions.

Like other diseases, prevention is the best medicine for gum and heart disease. Even if  you already have one of both of the conditions, taking preventative steps now can help lessen their impact over time.

  • Brush and floss regularly, removing plaque-forming bacteria.
  • Avoid cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and alcohol, which can destroy gums and increase chances of many diseases.
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in essential vitamins and minerals, especially A, C, and D, and eliminate (or reduce) starches and sugars as much as possible.
  • Get checked up regularly by your dentist and doctor, who can check for signs of systemic illness and catch diseases, such as gum and heart, early on. Always remember to be open and honest about your medical history, current conditions, and medications you may be taking.