Boost your cardiac health by caring
for your pearly whites.
The state of your mouth says a great deal about your overall health. Gum problems, for example, can create low-grade inflammation, which in turn can create an increased risk of developing such systemic disorders as high blood pressure and heart disease.
“Gum disease not only increases your risk of having a heart attack, but men have a 67% higher chance of developing pancreatic cancer and pregnant women have a seven times greater chance of having a premature, low-weight baby,” says Gerald P. Curatola, DDS, founder of www.RejuvinationDentistry.com and clinical associate professor at New York University’s College of Dentistry. Taking a proactive approach to oral health may help reduce these risks.
The Heartfelt Connection
A link between oral care and heart disease may seem unlikely. But while the exact mechanism is under debate, studies show that people with higher levels of disease-causing oral bacteria were more likely to have atherosclerosis in the carotid artery, potentially leading to a stroke (Circulation 2/8/05).
One theory regarding the oral- cardiovascular connection involves bacteria from the gums entering the bloodstream. There they are thought to attach themselves to fatty arterial deposits called plaques that can cause blockages. Other researchers believe the body’s own natural defenses against bacteria may trigger the sort of chronic inflammation that has been found to underlie many disease processes, including heart problems. It may increase diabetes risk; in fact, tooth decay and gum problems can be early signs of diabetes. Having both diabetes and gum disease also makes controlling blood sugar levels tougher.
While certain bacteria in the mouth may be connected to heart disease, other bacteria are essential for good health. “The solution is in finding the right balance,” says Curatola. “Not all bacteria need to be eliminated with mouthwashes and toothpaste. In fact, doing so could cause more problems by eliminating a biofilm [a community of microorganisms] essential for a healthy mouth.” Some mouthwashes and toothpastes eliminate good bacteria, says Curatola. “Many toothpastes are actually flavored detergents,” he says. “Ingredients such as chlorhexidine and other antibacterial agents are also found in floor cleaners and pesticides.”
Making Your Mouth Happy
“A holistic approach to oral care is based on an understanding of how a healthy mouth looks and functions and how it influences and is influenced by the rest of the body,” says Robert T. McBride, DDS, of the Dental Wellness Center in Long Beach, California. “Fixing a broken tooth, for example, without looking for the source of the problem can make the problem worse. Is there a bite problem or bone loss [osteoporosis] and why? Diagnosis is key.”
Proper diagnosis requires an oral health assessment. A thorough examination should include:
“People need to be active participants in their oral health care and should find a dentist who will work with them,” says McBride. One place to start is the Holistic Dental Association, www.holisticdental.org.
Basic oral hygiene is an absolute must. Brush and floss regularly. To avoid bacterial buildup, change your toothbrush monthly and any time you suffer from an upper respiratory infection. To restore a healthy pH balance, rinse your mouth twice each day with a Himalayan salt solution (sea salt may be substituted in a pinch). Using a toothpaste made with tea tree oil, a potent natural antiseptic, has been shown to help ease gingivitis, or inflamed gums. Tooth cleansers made with neem, an antiseptic herb long used in India for oral health, helps fight bacteria and inflammation.
A dietary assessment may also shed light on dental issues. The nutritional building blocks to a healthy smile include, not surprisingly, guidelines to good health in general. “Avoid refined sugars and white flour and focus on alkalizing, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich foods,” says Curatola. “Sugars and refined carbohydrates promote an imbalance and an overgrowth of acid-loving bacteria that cause gum disease and tooth decay. And foods such as dairy and gluten can be major inflammatory triggers for some people.” Eat an abundance of alkaline-producing fruits and vegetables while limiting acid-producing foods, such as animal protein, alcohol, soft drinks and oils, to help to keep your mouth healthy.
While the need for specific supplements varies with the person, calcium and vitamin D—best known for helping to build strong bones—have been shown to prevent tooth loss later in life. In addition, combinations of CoQ10, vitamin E, selenium and MSM, among other nutrients, may also help promote oral well-being.
As McBride says, “It’s relatively simple to maintain a healthy mouth.” Your heart may depend on it.