Heart disease runs in my family so naturally, I’m worried. A friend told me that brushing your teeth can prevent heart disease. I was polite, but I don’t believe him. Can this be true? –K.M., Sanibel, Florida
Answer: You’re friend is right so how important is oral hygiene? In a word, very. In 2005 researchers at Columbia University Medical Center found that the bacteria that grow in your mouth (promoting the formation of plaque on your pearly whites and causing gum disease) are the exact same germs that contribute to plaque forming in your arteries to cause heart disease. Sounds to me like a darned good reason to brush and floss each day. If you avoid bacon because of cholesterol concerns, I actually found bacon-flavored dental floss on the Internet!
Earlier this year, researchers in London published a study that lends major support to the recommendation to keep the mouth clear of plaque. The researchers looked at results from the Scottish Health Survey, which collected health data from more than 11,000 men and women, a representative sampling of the general population of Scotland. Over a period of eight years the researchers recorded 555 cardiovascular “events,” 170 of which were fatal. When I say “events” I mean heart attacks, strokes and similar problems.
Now here’s where the study gets really interesting, from a tooth-brushing point of view. Even allowing for things like smoking, obesity, and poor diet, the London researchers found that those who reported that they seldom or never brushed their teeth were 70 percent more likely to experience a cardiovascular event than those who paid greater attention to dental care. Seventy percent!
It’s so easy to brush and floss your teeth, and it impacts the health of your most important muscle. Even people with dentures have to be vigilant about plaque formation, you are not immune. Everyone should visit a dental hygienist twice a year for a thorough exam and cleaning. I’m shy about x-rays, so I just opt for the cleaning when I go. A good dentist office will respect your wishes and not pressure you for x-rays each time.
Here’s another idea to make your mouth healthier and less of a host to plaque forming bacteria. Scrape your tongue! You can buy a tongue scraper at any pharmacy and all you have to do is use it after you brush your teeth. Draw the scraper gently down your tongue a few times, and rinse it after each scrape. That brownish white gunk that comes off your tongue? That’s mostly bacteria. Flushing that down the sink is much better than swallowing them. This is great for people with bad breath too. For under ten dollars you can get a new toothbrush, tongue scraper and floss, the pay-off is that you’re protecting your ticker while making yourself more kissable. What’s not to love?!