Heart disease may be preventable by an action as simple as brushing your teeth twice a day according to a group of London-based researchers (de Oliviera et al 2010). Inflammation due to periodontal disease is the suspected link to a 70% increased risk of heart disease. Chronic periodontal disease may cause significant damage by increasing the overall levels of inflammation in the body. Inflammation in general is already known to have adverse effects on the cardio-vascular system.
The research conducted in a Scottish population indicates that brushing teeth less than once a day produces raised levels of inflammatory markers including C reactive protein and fibrinogen. Although this association seems to be repeatable and therefore reliable, direct causative proof of the exact role of inflammation in heart disease is yet to be determined. However this requirement may be largely academic. Regardless of why inflammatory markers are found to be associated with an increased risk of heart disease, the link is present nevertheless.
Researchers suggest that this link may be due to the periodontal disease leading to disturbances in lipid metabolism, and that more studies should be performed to understand the underlying mechanisms (Wu et al 2000). One possible factor creating this disturbance in lipid metabolism is the presence of bacteria in dental plaques that are precursors to periodontal disease. Bacterial activity and products of their metabolism may enter the blood stream thereby transferring problems to other regions of the body. Even tooth brushing may cause bacterial products to invade the circulation. These bacterial products can cause damage to arteries, increase clotting, and clog blood vessels including those in the heart.
Different types of bacteria colonising teeth, and varying bacterial activity, may also be a factor in determining potential for damage and this may also be associated with dietary habits. Eating a diet low in sugary processed foods helps to reduce the growth of bacteria on teeth and therefore inhibits plaque formation and periodontal disease. However brushing teeth twice a day to remove any bacterial growth and plaques that have formed significantly reduces the risk of developing periodontal disease as well as lessening the effects of existing periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease is characterized by several signs and symptoms including:
Red and inflamed gums
Bleeding gums especially after brushing
Hardened calculus (tartar) on the base of teeth
Retraction of gums away from the base of teeth
Severe swelling and pus
Breath odour that persists
Loose teeth due to bone and soft tissue degeneration
Early signs of gingivitis prior to receding of gums can easily be reversed with adopting improved oral hygiene and eating habits. Brush twice a day, and avoid sugary, refined and starchy foods. However once periodontal disease has developed, advice and treatment should be sought from a dentist in order to restore teeth and gums to normal health, and avoid the increased risk of heart disease.
Inflammation causes a range of other health problems. Read about dietary tips to reduce inflammation here.
de Oliveira, C, Watt, R, Hamer, M 2010, ‘Toothbrushing, inflammation, and risk of cardiovascular disease: results from Scottish Health Survey’, BMJ; vol. 340, c2451, viewed 31 May 2010, http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/340/may27_1/c2451
Wu, T, Trevisan, M, Genco, R, Falkner, K, Dorn, J, Sempos, C 2000, ‘Examination of the Relation between Periodontal Health Status and Cardiovascular Risk Factors: Serum Total and High Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol, C-reactive Protein, and Plasma Fibrinogen’, American Journal of Epidemiology, vol. 151, no. 3, 273-282, viewed 31 May 2010, http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/151/3/273