Here’s more evidence that taking good care of your teeth and gums benefits your heart. Investigators from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that improving gum health can actually help slow the development of atherosclerosis – the build-up of cholesterol rich plaque along artery walls that can lead to heart attacks and stroke. The research team followed 420 men and women to determine how changes in gum health affects atherosclerosis. Over three years of follow-up, the investigators found that improvements in gum health were paralleled by a slowdown of the process that leads to thickening of artery walls. However, among the study participants whose gum disease worsened, the researchers saw an additional 0.1 millimeters of thickening. "When it comes to atherosclerosis, a tenth of a millimeter in the thickness of the carotid artery is a big deal,” said study co-author Tatjana Rundek M.D., Ph.D., in a press release. When dealing with coronary arteries, that small amount is enough to make a significant difference in heart disease risk. The study was published online on November 1, 2013 by the Journal of the American Heart Association.
My take? We’ve known for some time that the bacteria that cause gum disease can trigger an inflammatory response that promotes a gradual thickening of artery walls throughout the body. Maintaining good dental health is key to preventing atherosclerosis, and as this study shows caring for your teeth and gums can actually reverse this condition and the risk it poses for heart attack and stroke. It is vital to brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss daily to avoid the buildup of small amounts of food that attract and nourish bacteria. In addition, be sure to have regular dental checkups so that any gum disease can be identified and treated promptly.
Moïse Desvarieux, MD, PhD et al, “Changes in Clinical and Microbiological Periodontal Profiles Relate to Progression of Carotid Intima‐Media Thickness: The Oral Infections and Vascular Disease Epidemiology Study,” Journal of the American Heart Association, doi: 10.1161/JAHA.113.000254