Can Good Oral Hygiene Save Your Life?

When you think of efforts that can stave off a heart attack or stroke, you don't immediately zero in on your teeth and gums. But a growing body of evidence says that what goes on in your mouth could harm the health of your heart and beyond. Find out why dodging the dentist can put your life at risk.

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If the eyes are the window to your soul, then the mouth should be the door to your heart. Not just because it is key to a loving kiss, a pretty smile and savoring a meal, but also because poor oral health can be the root cause of some serious health problems, including heart disease. Yet, many Americans, even those with good access to healthcare and insurance, don't give oral care the attention it deserves. We bypass brushing, forgo the floss and dodge the dentist until there is a problem. Some adults have such heighten dental anxiety they never set foot in a dentist's office.

But research is unearthing evidence that says that skipping mouth care is a dangerous strategy because what begins quietly at the gum line can later set off a chain of events that can lead to heart attack, memory loss, stroke and miscarriage. And of all the measures we know of that can avert a potentially life-threatening disease, oral care is probably one the most effortless activities one can do.

What Gives at the Gums?

Teeth are hard calcified structures firmly anchored in the sockets of soft fleshy gum tissue called gingiva that covers the ridge of bone in the jaw.

Within a few hours of brushing a soft film of plaque begins to coat the surface of teeth. At first the plaque is easily removed and you can scrape it off without much effort using a toothbrush. Within a day however, plaque begins to absorb hardening minerals from saliva. And in a couple of weeks, it turns into cement-like calcified tartar that can only be removed with a dental tool. It collects on and between teeth and in the gum pockets.

The mouth is also home to bacteria, even a healthy mouth. There's just no way around it. And bacteria love plaque because it is a particularly cozy environment in which to grow. As soon as plaque begins to build, bacteria colonize like mad. They feast on and ferment sugars and starches from food, which then produces tooth-damaging acid that can cause enamel erosion, decay and cavities.