Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Regular teeth-brushing may not help your heart

Couple of weeks ago, someone told me that dental caries are linked to cardiovascular health. “In fact”, he said, “bacteria causing gum disease can travel through the bloodstream and reach your heart.”

I made this face. So fitting because I love this painting and a copy of this just sold hours ago at an auction for around $120 million:

I found a couple of magazine articles noting that advanced dental caries can cause cardiovascular problems. I made a mental note to take care of my teeth for more reasons than one.

Couple of days later, I heard this story on the radio: Flossing is good for the gums but doesn’t help the heart. Turns out, while theoretically dental bacteria can get into the bloodstream and causing plaque buildup, there is no evidence that gum diseases cause cardiovascular problems. This paper published in Circulation notes that while gum diseases are associated with cardiovascular problems, there is not a cause-and-effect relationship, at least from a thorough survey of current literature.

I don’t think this takes away from the importance of taking care of your teeth. By the point bacteria get in your bloodstream to reach your heart, you probably have serious painful gum issues already.

But this finding places an emphasis on another important aspect of your health: your heart. Going to the dentist regularly does not- in itself alone- guarantee a robust heart. Exercise, eat well, monitor your weight.

And of course, brush your teeth (with toothpaste containing fluoride) and floss regularly as part of your healthy routine.