They say that the eyes are the window to the soul. But believe it or not, your mouth is the door to your overall health, especially when it comes to your heart.
February is American Heart Month and not just because of the cute gifts we give to our valentines. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and yet, 80% of premature heart disease and strokes are preventable. Medical professionals have long studied the connection between preventative oral health care and reduced risk of heart disease and have concluded that a healthy smile contributes to a healthy heart.
In this article, we’re going to learn more about this connection and ways boosting your oral health can strengthen your heart for years to come.
How are mouths and hearts connected?
When we talk about the link between your mouth and your heart, we’re looking primarily at the gums. Gum disease in its early stages can be prevented from advancing with good oral health habits and regular cleanings. But if left unchecked, the bacteria in your mouth can enter your bloodstream and cause inflammation to damaged areas of your heart. This can potentially lead to endocarditis, clogged arteries or stroke.
That’s why it is so important to maintain your heart health and oral health in tandem: when you take care of one, you are helping out the other. Here are four key factors that help keep both areas in top shape:
The foods you eat
“Heart-healthy” diets often get a bad rap, but we promise it isn’t just brown rice and bland chicken. Incorporating more vegetables into your meal plan allows for key nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, iron and calcium to work their magic.
On the heart side of the spectrum, these nutrients help reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure and cut the risk of heart attack and stroke. Your gums will also be grateful for the boost, as these vitamins and minerals can protect gums from infection and cell damage. Plus, the crunch of a carrot or celery stick produces saliva, which clears out plaque.
For tips on ways to make wholesome vegetables delicious, check out this article.
The smoking habits you drop
You don’t need us to tell you tobacco use is unhealthy for your heart and mouth. There have been countless studies conducted to showcase the connection between smoking, heart disease and oral cancers and yet, smoking kills 480,000 Americans a year. It is also the number one cause of preventable death in the country.
And before you ask, no, vaping is not much better. The e-cigarettes that are popular with younger generations still contain nicotine, which restricts blood flow to the gums, contributing to gum disease.
By kicking the tobacco habit for good, you can begin to transform your body in positive ways, whether it has been 20 minutes since your last cigarette or 15 years.
The way you move
We all know exercise can improve our entire well-being. In fact, just 10 minutes of brisk walking can easily contribute to the 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services. And while we associate exercise with things like our heart, lungs and weight loss, moving your body can also have a positive impact on your oral health.
A report published in the Journal of Dentistry revealed that regular exercise can decrease the likelihood of gum disease by as much as 54% among non-smokers. This is because exercising even for just 20 minutes generates a response that combats chronic inflammation, which is linked to both heart and gum disease.
We have some great articles on working exercise into your day here and here.
The tried and true dental advice
Every dental and wellness blog on the internet (including us!) will tell you the same advice about brushing and flossing: brush your teeth twice a day and floss at least once a day. There is a good reason why: it works.
When you skimp on flossing, you are only cleaning about 70% of your tooth’s surface. Flossing helps you clean the other 30% that the bristles of your brush can’t reach, which is why you want to make sure you are doing both tasks on a daily basis.
And don’t forget about your regular dental cleanings and exams. In addition to keeping your teeth and gums healthy, these routine visits can also have a positive effect on your overall health, including your heart.
The bottom line: Our oral health and heart health are connected in many ways. And by helping one, you take care of the other.