Did you know that the health of your mouth – your gums, more specifically – is intricately linked to the health of your heart?
While it seems all we hear about heart health is keeping our cholesterol low, losing weight and staying fit, the mouth-heart connection is an important link that somehow just isn’t ‘sexy’ enough to be repeated in mainstream health advice.
Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, can create an inflammatory response in other areas of the body, namely the cardiovascular system. In periodontal disease, the gums and their deeper support tissues become chronically infected and inflamed. This occurs in poor oral hygiene, or when plaque builds up on the teeth near the gums.
Plaque is a nasty mix of bacteria, saliva and starchy (sugary) food residues that form a pasty coating on the teeth, leading to gum infection. Note: gingivitis is an inflammatory gum condition, whereas periodontal disease is when the gums are chronically inflamed and infected.
The American Academy of Periodontology says that people with periodontal disease have nearly twice the risk of heart disease than those without gum disease. Another study showed that gum disease was as a good a predictor of heart disease as cholesterol levels.
While researchers aren’t entirely sure how gum disease causes heart disease, they do know that bacteria from the mouth can enter the blood stream through the gums and these same bacteria can be found inside of arterial plaques. They also think that the immune system responds to the presence of mouth-bacteria in the blood stream with inflammation, triggering an inflammatory response in the lining of the arteries, which is a big component of arterial, or heart disease.
(There may be some evidence that this same bacteria problem may cause arthritis, but that’s another topic for a different day.)
We’ve all certainly heard about brushing and flossing twice daily, but what else can you do if your gums aren’t in great shape (in addition to seeing your dentist)? Here are some nutrients that specifically benefit gum health:
Gum disease may be linked to lower levels of this nutrient. There are several studies showing that supplementing with, or topical application of CoQ10 can keep gum tissues healthy and lessen periodontal disease. CoQ10 is super useful for other reasons, too.
Inadequate vitamin C leads to the disease scurvy; a hallmark of this disease is bleeding gums. People with vitamin C intakes lower than the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) have a nearly doubled risk of developing periodontal disease. Vitamin C is needed for the repair of our connective tissue – gums, cartilage, skin, and even bone. If you have gum or connective tissue problems, it's a good idea to supplement with vitamin C in addition to eating a lot of fresh fruits and veggies, which are rich sources of this vitamin.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil has antibiotic, or bacteria-killing properties. Topically applied tea tree oil was shown to significantly reduce gum inflammation (gingivitis) and bleeding after brushing (a sign of diseased gums).
One study showed that vitamin D supplementation reduced gum inflammation at doses ranging from 500-2000 units, with stronger anti-inflammatory effects with higher doses of vitamin D. (Vitamin D has so many health benefits that it's something nearly everyone should consider as part of their regimen).
Preventing heart disease is probably a major reason why people try to stay fit. As part of that plan, be sure to brush and floss twice daily, see your dentist, and consider supplementing with extra nutrients to keep your gums, and more importantly, your cardiovascular system in good shape. Oh and don't forget to go running and ride your bike too!