Want to protect your heart? Take care of your teeth and gums

Want to protect your heart? Take care of your teeth and gums

Health experts agree that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in America. If you're concerned about your heart, you've probably decided to adopt healthy habits to keep your ticker ticking. You're likely eating nutritious foods, exercising more, taking a fish oil supplement and giving up vices, such as cigarettes.

Still, there's one more important thing that you need to remember to support your heart: Make an appointment with your dentist.

Your mouth is a portal
You may not know it, but there are huge populations of bacteria living in your mouth. Most of these bacteria are harmless, and some are even beneficial, but there are others that can cause problems, such as plaque buildup, cavities and tooth decay.

As long as your gums are in good shape, all of the harmful germs will stay in your mouth, where they can be cleaned away with the help of brushing, flossing and regular dental checkups. However, if you neglect your gums and they start to break down, you can potentially open a portal from your mouth to your circulatory system. If the bad bacteria start traveling to other areas around your body, including your heart, you can be in trouble.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic noted that bacteria can cause different inflammatory reactions if they reach the heart. For example, inflammation is an important part of the process in which fatty plaques build up and block the arteries that feed the heart. These plaques may eventually lead to heart attack or stroke. Also, certain people who have damage to the tissue in their heart may develop endocarditis, in which the bacteria from the mouth attach themselves to the tissue. A dentist can help make sure that this doesn't happen.

Another reason why it's important to see the dentist is because some diseases that develop in other parts of the body can cause the gums to break down and the teeth to fall out. These include diabetes, osteoporosis and HIV/AIDS.

Once you've seen a dentist, you'll have a better idea of what you can do to protect your teeth and gums (and thus, your heart). This includes brushing at least twice a day, flossing, eating healthy food, limiting between-meal snacks and replacing toothbrushes every three to four months, experts from the Mayo Clinic explained. According to the National Institutes of Health, cessation of tobacco use and moderation of alcohol consumption are also important.

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