Did you know that practicing sound oral hygiene is not only good for the mouth, teeth, and gums—it’s a key component of heart health? Gum disease and heart health are closely linked.
The connection was first introduced in 1998 by The American Academy of Periodontology, which issued a warning that infections of the gums can lead to cardiovascular disease. Over the last 20 years, numerous studies have shown that gum infections and cardiovascular risks tend to rise together.
One of the most significant studies is Periodontitis and Its Relation to Coronary Artery Disease (PAROKRANK), which was published in the journal Circulation. It found that those with gum disease were 49 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those without gum disease. While the researchers cautioned that association doesn’t prove causation, these findings substantiate what science has already shown.
Another published study looked at the condition of the mouth, teeth, and oral cavities of people with known heart disease who were studied with coronary arteriography. As expected, the presence of periodontal disease was highly correlated with cardiovascular disease, indicating the proposed connection to be all too real.
The Link Between Gum Disease & Heart Disease
Gum disease is an infectious, inflammatory condition caused by harmful bacteria growing on teeth in the form of a dental plaque biofilm. These infections, which can last for decades, put enormous stress on the immune system.
With gum disease, destructive microorganisms, inflammatory compounds, and poisonous waste materials from destroyed bacteria (endotoxins) seep from the mouth and circulate throughout the body—creating a state of hyper-immunity and inflammation. In the bloodstream, those periodontal bacteria can invade susceptible arteries and defective heart valves.
These bacteria can also generate a direct inflammatory stimulus in the body, initiating or contributing to cardiovascular risk. Among the major problematic organisms is Porphyromonas gingivalis, a bacterium with a platelet aggregation effect, which means it can cause abnormal clotting.
The connection between oral health and heart health is even more significant if you have valvular heart disease. That’s why anyone with moderate to severe mitral valve prolapse—and particularly anyone with a severe degree of mitral regurgitation—needs to take antibiotics before any dental work is performed.
How to Protect Your Gums and Your Heart
When I was performing cardiac catheterizations on a regular basis, I always checked my patients’ mouths and gums and saw an increased amount of coronary artery disease in those with poor dental hygiene. So, one of the most important things you can do for your heart and overall health is to practice good oral hygiene. That helps to lower the number of "bad" bacteria in your mouth to help prevent bacteria from translocating via the bloodstream.
First and foremost, brush your teeth. Brushing will reduce bacteria and help prevent additional plaque and tartar from forming. The best type of toothbrush is one without “hard” bristles that can tear and injure your delicate gums. Medium and soft bristles massage gum (gingival) tissue and help improve the local circulation along the gum line.
Rotary toothbrushes and oral irrigation devices are also very important to proper oral hygiene. I particularly recommend using a bit of coconut oil as a mouth wash, swishing for a few minutes each morning. The monolaurin found in coconut oil supports the immune system. Traditional antiseptic mouthwashes can knock out some of the helpful bacteria in a healthy oral microbiome, so coconut oil is a much better choice.
When choosing a toothpaste, I encourage you to find one that's natural, without artificial colorings and additives. Better yet, brush with baking soda and rinse with a capful of apple cider vinegar, both of which help to get rid of harmful bacteria.
Taking vitamin C, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), essential fatty acids, and magnesium can also help your heart and gums by bolstering your immune system and reducing inflammation.