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Taking Oral Health to Heart

Your mouth as your heart’s first line of defence

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“Brush at least twice a da.” “Floss once a day.” “Candies cause cavities.” Many of us are told from a young age that dental care is important, but just how important is it?

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Window into our health

The mouth is one of the body’s major gateways to the external world. And in recent years, there has been extensive exploration into the relationship between oral health and conditions throughout the body, particularly related to our hearts.

Findings have suggested again and again that oral health is crucial to our overall well-being. In fact, good oral health is considered a window into our general health. And, while poor oral health has been associated with lower quality of life and reduced longevity, the relationship goes both ways: many diseases and medications are linked to negative impacts on oral health.

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The full-body impact of dental health

The average adult mouth hosts between 50 and 100 billion bacteria; some support our health while others can contribute to disease. This makes the mouth one of the major sources of infection within our bodies as the bacteria in the mouth eventually find their way into the bloodstream.

Bacteria enter our system directly through the mouth’s affected tissues and indirectly through the gastrointestinal tract via the food we eat. These oral bacteria can have a significant impact on our bodies, including our hearts and circulatory systems.

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Inflammation trigger

In most oral infections, the bacteria gather in the gap between the teeth and the gums, widening the gap between them and triggering the body’s immune response. Poor oral health and periodontal disease—disease of the gums and other tissues surrounding the teeth—have been linked with chronic systemic inflammation, which has been found to play a major role in the development of chronic diseases.

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Chronic conditions

Those with chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular, diabetes, and kidney diseases; rheumatoid arthritis; and osteoporosis, are more likely to have worse oral health compared to those without these conditions.

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Pregnancy and fetal health

Even before we’re born, oral health can play a significant role. Not only do changing hormones make a pregnant woman more prone to oral conditions like gingivitis, bleeding gums, and cavities, but the health of a mother’s mouth can likewise affect the pregnancy itself, including increasing the risk of gestational hypertension, pre-eclampsia, low birth weight, and pre-term delivery.

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The mouth-heart connection

Among conditions linked to oral health, the relationship between oral health and cardiovascular diseases is perhaps the most studied.

Periodontal and cardiovascular diseases are both major health concerns, and their relationship is multifaceted. Periodontal disease is one of the world’s most common chronic infections, with prevalence and severity known to rise with age.And, according to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular diseases, which include coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, stroke, and peripheral artery disease, remain the leading cause of death worldwide.

Dental inflammation and cardiovascular diseases share overlapping risk factors like diabetes, smoking habits, low physical activity, and aging. And poor oral health has been associated with increased risk of developing and exacerbating chronic inflammation which has also been associated with increased risk of developing and exacerbating cardiovascular diseases.

In addition, oral bacteria that enter our circulatory systems can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries (oral microbes are the most common bacteria found in atherosclerotic plaques!).

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Getting to the heart of proper oral hygiene

Regular brushing—at least twice a day—flossing daily, along with regular dental checkups can not only reduce the risk of tooth loss, dental caries, and periodontal diseases, but have also been shown to positively impact cardiovascular health.

A population-based 2019 study published in The European Heart Journal found that participants who brushed at least three times a day had 19 percent less risk of cardiovascular events compared to those who brushed once or less per day. Professional cleaning at least once a year was associated with a 14 percent reduction in cardiovascular risk, while regular brushing and periodontal treatment lead to a reduction in the body’s inflammatory markers.

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Sleep matters

Low-quality and quantity of sleep is often associated with periodontal diseases. Individuals who sleep less than seven hours each night may develop or exacerbate dental caries.

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Warning signs of dental decay

The development of periodontal disease and other oral conditions can manifest in several ways.

·         bad breath or taste that won’t go away

·         red or swollen gums

·         tender or bleeding gums

·         toothache or mouth pain

·         painful chewing

·         loose teeth

·         sensitive teeth

·         gums that have pulled away from your teeth

·         changes to the way your teeth fit together when you bite

·         changes in the fit of partial dentures

·         facial swelling

If you experience any of these symptoms, be sure to consult your dentist or health practitioner—not just for the health of your mouth but for the health of your heart, too!

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Guard your grin

These natural supports can help protect your smile.

Support

Smile benefits 

calcium

plays a key role in bone regeneration, which can directly affect periodontal health

phosphorus

works with calcium to help build and maintain tooth enamel

probiotics

regular consumption supports a healthy oral microbiome to reduce the risk of dental disorders

vitamin A

deficiency is associated with impaired tooth formation and decreased oral epithelial development

vitamin C

May help bring down periodontal inflammation and improve bleeding gums

vitamin D3

helps regulate the absorption of calcium and phosphorus and maintains the dental tissues

vitamin K2

helps regulate calcium metabolism in the body to support dental health

xylitol gum

has antibacterial properties that may help impair plaque formation and protect enamel

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Manuka honey for oral health

Manuka honey has been extensively researched for its role in supporting oral health. When compared to the effectiveness of traditional honey, manuka honey demonstrates stronger antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, and has shown effectiveness against the symptoms of gingivitis.

Manuka honey’s ability to reduce dental plaque is considered to be superior to xylitol chewing gum, and it has demonstrated particularly strong antibacterial action when combined with cranberry extract.

Manuka honey’s benefits extend beyond your mouth; it’s also helpful in treating sore throat, healing wounds, reducing pain, and treating acne.

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Start them young

Introducing kids to good dental practices at a young age and modelling these habits yourself sets them up to carry these habits into adulthood. Evidence suggests a link between a caregiver’s oral health and that of their children.

This article was originally published in the February 2024 issue of alive magazine.

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