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Flossing Your Way to a Healthy Heart: Heart Disease and the Oral Hygiene Connection

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Gum Disease related image Photo: Getty Images

Twice a year, like a lamb voluntarily being led to the slaughter (I have dental phobia), I dutifully show up at the dentist office for a semi-annual cleaning and checkup. My dentist is a great guy but he’s big on preaching the flossing message. More than once he’s delivered the solemn words: “Floss the ones you want to keep, Mary. Floss the ones you want to keep.”

As it turns out, flossing just may have more overall health benefits than just keeping our gums and teeth healthy (and the original ones in your mouth). According to one recent study, regular brushing and flossing just may help to prevent heart disease. Okay, okay--now, I totally buy into the concept of having good dental hygiene, but preventing heart disease? I’m intrigued!

So just how does poor dental hygiene hurt our heart health and put us at risk of heart attack? What’s up with that? According to Professor Howard Jenkinson (University of Bristol), the culprit is the oral bacteria that we have in our mouths. One of the more common types of bacteria that is normally found taking up residence in our mouths (and yes, you’ll be grossed out) is the Streptococcus bacteria. Limited to your mouth, it merely causes little unwelcome problems like gum diseases and, of course, that nasty feeling, thick plaque on the teeth. (Without saying anything more, the mere presence of Streptococcus bacteria should be enough to send us running for our toothbrushes!)

As long as you’re brushing and flossing regularly (and practicing generally good oral hygiene habits), you should be able to at least keep this bacteria at bay. But, in the very unfortunate event that good dental hygiene isn’t a part of your daily lifestyle choice, you may find not only your teeth at risk (and possibly friendships as well from bad breath they’ll be subjected to) but your heart as well.

The trouble to your heart health begins when Streptococcus bacteria escape the confines of your mouth and enters your bloodstream. How does this happen? Well, when you don’t brush and floss, it’s not uncommon to find yourself suffering from bleeding gums. That’s all the opportunity the Streptococcus bacteria needs. It jumps on the bleeding gums and uses them as an escape hatch to take the bloodstream train out of town. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just leave your body and go - it merely latches on to another part of your body and begins to wreak havoc elsewhere. In this case, it can damage your heart by causing blood clots to form in your arteries which contribute to the development of heart disease.

Researchers at the University of Bristol and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) have been studying the effect of the Streptococcus bacteria on heart health. Their findings clearly show that the Streptococcus bacteria causes your body to create blood clots when the bacteria enters the bloodstream. It accomplishes this by depositing a protein - PadA. When PadA is present, platelets are forced to bind together resulting in the formation of blood clots, blood vessel inflammation (which can block blood supply to the heart leading to a heart attack or brain leading to a stroke), and endocarditis. Unfortunately, as the PadA sets our heart up for failure (no pun intended here), it also creates a nice little cocoon around the bacteria which makes it very difficult to treat since it’s protected from outside influences, such as antibiotics.

Luckily for us, as with most other risk factors for heart disease, there is something that you can do to prevent Streptococcus bacteria from entering the bloodstream - brush and floss regularly. Your teeth will thank you. Your friends will thank you. And, your heart will thank you!

Mary Kyle is a freelance writer, editor, and project manager. She has a Master of Arts in Legal Studies, a Bachelor of Music, and multiple professional certifications in project management. In addition to health advocacy, she is passionate about literacy and volunteers in local schools teaching writing seminars and reading.

‘Jailbreak’ bacteria can trigger heart disease, 04 Sept 2010, Breakthrough Digest Medical News, http://www.breakthroughdigest.com/medical-news/jailbreak-bacteria-can-trigger-heart-disease/

Gum Bacteria Escape Into Bloodstream And Increase Risk of Clots and Heart Attack, 06 Sept 2010, Medical News Today,

Add a Comment2 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

For 35 years I have used a Gripit Floss Holder – www.gripit.biz – to keep my teeth and gums healthy. These handy devices come with their own floss supply that can be advanced in seconds and refilled from local drug and grocery stores. They last a lifetime and don’t clog landfills. My grand kids like them too because they can floss without putting their fingers into their mouths

September 8, 2010 - 3:24pm
EmpowHER Guest

I think water flossing is definitely the way to go. It is painless and effective and, in my opinion, removes more food debris left behind by brushing, than normal flossing. There is a good review of the water flosser I use at www.waterpikultrawaterflosser.com. It is good for children as well as it has different water pressure settings to suit each child’s age, and can clean behind braces and bridges as well. Definitely worth a try.

September 8, 2010 - 2:55pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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