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Published: November, 2010; Vol 7, Num 6

 

One-Two Punch of the Toothbrush:

Healthy Teeth, Healthy Heart

Diet and lifestyle are essential in preventing heart disease.

So is a toothbrush.

Toothbrush Technique

  • Place toothbrush at a 45-degree angle against the gums.
  • Gently move the brush up and down in short (tooth-wide) strokes.
  • Brush the outer tooth surfaces, the inner tooth surfaces and the chewing surfaces of the teeth.
  • Use the "toe" of the brush to clean the inside surfaces of the front teeth, using a gentle up-and-down stroke.
  • Brush tongue to remove bacteria and freshen breath.

In addition to fighting cavities and freshening breath, research indicates that brushing teeth can lower risk for heart attack, stroke and other ailments related to coronary artery disease (CAD). The leading killer in the U.S. and Canada – more than half a million people die from it every year – CAD is characterized by a cholesterol/calcium buildup called arterial plaque that forms in the coronary arteries causing them to stiffen, harden and become blocked. 

Periodontal disease, a bacterial infection of the gums that develops from poor dental hygiene and can lead to tooth loss, is the CAD/toothbrush link. Bacteria that cause periodontal disease often travel from the gums to the heart to cause bacterial endocarditis, a sometimes fatal inflammation of the heart lining and heart valves.

Twice-a-day brushing of the teeth is the first line of defense against periodontal disease. It helps remove dental plaque, a sticky, filmy food byproduct that forms on teeth and at the gum line. When naturally occurring oral bacteria interact with dental plaque, the resulting acids can cause tooth decay, which invites periodontal disease. Additionally, when dental plaque is not removed, it hardens into a substance called calculus or tartar. This material irritates and inflames the gums providing yet another opportunity for periodontal disease. Periodontal disease can aggravate existing CAD or, through the inflammation it can cause in the arteries, be the source.

Prevent Dental Plaque:

  • Brush teeth at least twice a day with a soft toothbrush. Pay particular attention to the space where the gums and teeth meet.
  • Use toothpaste that contains fluoride.
  • Floss between teeth at least once a day to help remove food particles and bacteria.
  • Have teeth cleaned every six months by a dentist or oral hygienist.
  • Ask your dentist about dental sealants, the thin plastic coatings that are painted on the chewing surfaces of teeth for additional protection against decay.
  • Eat a balanced diet. For snacks, choose nutritious foods such as plain yogurt, cheese, fruit or raw vegetables. Apples and celery actually help remove food and assist saliva in neutralizing acids caused by plaque.

Fresh breath and bright smiles can open many doors in life, including one to good heart health. Brush your teeth at least twice a day and help keep your heart strong.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]