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What have brushing and cleaning your teeth to do with your heart? A lot, say health experts, suggesting that taking care of your teeth and gums will not only help keep oral hygiene or make you smile better but also save your heart from various heart diseases.
Gum disease can be a reason for heart disease because bacteria from infected gums can dislodge, enter the bloodstream, attach to blood vessels and increase clot formation.
"Swelling caused by gum disease may also trigger clot formation. Clots decrease blood flow to the heart, thereby causing an elevation in blood pressure and increasing the risk of a heart attack", said Dr Subhash Chandra, chairman (cardiology) at BLK Super Speciality Hospital in the capital.
Dr Chandra recently treated Neelam, an 18-year-old girl who was diagnosed with endocarditis (suffering from leaking heart valve). The infection in her heart valves was caused by mouth bacteria.
Endocarditis is an infection of the heart's valves or inner lining. It occurs when germs get into the bloodstream and settle inside the heart, often on a valve.
The infection is usually caused by bacteria but in rare cases it is seen to be caused by fungi.
Not brushing the teeth increases the bacterial count in the mouth which can travel to the damaged heart valves to cause infection.
Many of the risk factors for gum disease are the same as those for heart disease, such as tobacco use, poor nutrition and diabetes.
Overall, people who have chronic gum disease are at higher risk for a heart attack. The people with moderate or advanced gum (periodontal) disease are more likely to have heart disease than those with healthy gums.
There are two groups - namely coronary heart disease and infection in heart valves - in which the effect of poor oral health can be studied. Poor oral healthcare increases the risk of coronary heart diseases.
"Poor oral health increases the risk of infection in heart valves, especially in case of pre-existing damage in the heart valve. With such a condition, the infection due to poor oral health can reach to the already damaged heart valves, causing an infection there too." explained Dr Tapan Ghosh, director (cardiology sciences) at Paras Hospitals, Gurgaon.
Brushing your teeth twice a day is a mandate to maintain good oral healthcare. It is always advisable to go for a regular dental checkup in order to maintain a good oral health.
"One of the biggest mouth-heart connections is related to gum disease. The spread of infected bacteria by swollen and bleeding gums not only destroys the structure of teeth jawbones but can also cause heart attack," the experts cautioned.
Gum disease which is called "gingivitis" in its early stages and periodontal disease in the late stages is caused by plaque build-up along and below the gum line.
"Apart from heart attack, poor oral health hygiene may result in various serious health consequences as respiratory infections, diabetes, poor nutrition, osteoporosis and stomach disease like gastro-intestinal infection, H Pylori, gastritis and stomach cancer," added Dr Ramesh Garg, head (gastroenterology) at Saroj Super Speciality Hospital in Delhi.
So next time when you ignore brushing your teeth, hear the voice of your heart!
(Vivek Singh Chauhan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)