Why Cardiologists Care About Your Tooth Brushing Routine

Here’s how skipping the dentist can impact your heart health.

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You know that brushing, flossing, and visiting your dentist regularly are the major rules of good oral hygiene (and keeping those pearlies white). But if your oral care habits leave, say, a little something to be desired, can getting diagnosed with gum disease also mean an increased your risk of heart disease?

It just might. While gum disease (periodontitis) does not cause heart disease, it may increase your heart disease risk. That’s because heart disease and gum disease share a key underlying cause: inflammation. “Gum disease [is] a source of chronic inflammation. We’re starting to understand that inflammation underlies a lot of the heart disease that we see,” says Paul Knoepflmacher, MD, a clinical instructor in medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

Inflammation in the body, large or small, can have an impact on heart disease risk. “Even low levels of inflammation anywhere in your body, especially in your gums—like a little cavity that’s aggravating you—[is] causing an inflammatory response to your whole body and that can lead to acceleration in both heart disease and stroke,” says Satjit Bhusri, MD, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “There’s a reason why insurance covers two cleanings a year. It’s because we want to catch chronic inflammation,” says Dr. Bhusri.

Aside from scheduling those regular dental check-ups once or twice a year, here are some other important need-to-know oral hygiene tips to keep your smile, and you, healthy:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Clean between your teeth once a day with floss or another interdental cleaner.
  • Replace your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months. (Here’s a sign your toothbrush habits are messing with your health.)
  • Eat a balanced diet and avoid soda and sweets.

“If you get regular oral care, brush your teeth, [and] floss, you may actually be preventing problems with your heart even though it’s not obvious that there’s a link,” says Dr. Knoepflmacher.