Can Brushing Your Teeth Help Keep Your Heart Healthy?

Mother and son brushing teeth

It's a well-known fact that regular brushing, flossing, and dental checkups can help keep your mouth healthy. But can good oral hygiene really play a role in keeping your heart healthy, too?

There is no definitive evidence that not brushing your teeth can be bad for your heart. But there are indicators that oral health and heart health might be related. “The mouth can be a good warning signpost,” said Ann Bolger, M.D., William Watt Kerr Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “People with periodontitis [gum disease] often have risk factors that not only put their mouth at risk, but their heart and blood vessels, too. But whether one causes the other has not actually been shown.”1

Symptoms of gum disease

If you have symptoms of periodontal disease, see your dentist soon for treatment.

  • Persistent bad breath
  • Red, swollen or tender gums
  • Gums that bleed when you brush your teeth
  • Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
  • Loose teeth
  • A change in the way your teeth come together when you bite down2

Inflammation may be the link.

Periodontitis and heart disease share risk factors such as smoking, age, and diabetes. Both also contribute to inflammation in the body. And although shared risk factors only explain why both may occur together, there may also be other evidence that suggests an independent association between the two diseases.1

Independent researchers, as well as government agencies, continue to investigate this link. Some studies have shown that bacteria in the mouth that are involved in the development of gum disease can move into the bloodstream. When they do, they can cause an elevation in C-reactive protein—a marker for inflammation in the blood vessels. These changes can, in turn, increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.3

What you can do to avoid gum disease:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss or use another between-the-tooth cleaner daily to remove plaque and bits of food from areas your toothbrush can’t reach.
  • Your dentist or hygienist may recommend using a germ-fighting mouthwash or other products.
  • Eat a healthy diet and limit snacks.
  • Visit your dentist regularly. If plaque stays on your teeth, it hardens into tartar. Professional cleanings are the only way to remove tartar, which traps bacteria along the gumline.4
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