Could your toothbrushing habits predict your risk of heart disease?

Heart Health

by Michael Sills, MD

Feb 7, 2019

From an early age, your parents probably instilled in you the importance of brushing your teeth. Every day, twice a day, for two minutes. After years of their encouraging (and sometimes nagging), it became a habit like any other.

Research suggests there may be some logic to this “twice a day for two minutes” rule — at least, as it relates to your heart health. In one recent study, people who said they brushed less than twice a day for less than two minutes had a three-fold increased risk for heart disease, the number one cause of death in America.

Related: How a calcium screening can detect your risk of heart disease

With that in mind, let’s break down the connection between your toothbrushing habits and your heart health.

In addition to lifestyle factors, cholesterol levels and blood pressure, one of the biggest indicators of heart disease risk is inflammation. Inflammation is your body’s way of responding to and attacking foreign substances, like infectious diseases, but it can also occur when fatty deposits build up in your arteries. Anything that increases the inflammatory response in your body tends to create the instability of coronary arteries. Over time, chronic inflammation can lead to plaque rupture and heart attacks.

Related: Women and heart disease: It’s not just a man’s problem

Back to the toothbrushing link, gum disease (marked by gum inflammation, infection and tooth damage) essentially puts your body into a state of constant inflammation due to the buildup of plaque. While there is no proven direct connection between the two, people with gum disease (also known as periodontal disease) have been reported to be at 2-3 times the risk of heart disease.

While there is no proven direct connection between the two, people with gum disease (also known as periodontal disease) have been reported to be at 2-3 times the risk of heart disease.

There have been questions raised about the individuals who have periodontal disease as they tend to more frequently smoke, eat an unhealthy diet and in general, may not pay as close attention to their health as people who follow proper dental hygiene rules. But considering that both are closely tied to inflammation, the connection seems to make sense.

If nothing else, that’s a little extra motivation to brush your teeth, floss regularly and stay on top of your visits to your dentist — in addition to taking good care of other areas of your health.

Nearly half of all Americans have heart disease of some kind, whether that is coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke or high blood pressure. While it’s important to take good care of your teeth and gums, the biggest factor in your heart disease risk is your lifestyle. Talk to a doctor about how to lower your risk and live a heart healthy lifestyle.

Are you at risk for heart disease? Take the quiz today and find out.

About the Author

Michael Sills, MD, is a cardiologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Heart and Vascular Hospital – Dallas. His clinical interests include diagnostic and preventive cardiology as well as cardiac imaging. He is an avid runner, chef and proud grandfather.

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