Floss and Visit Dentist to Prevent a Heart Attack or Worse

There’s a strong connection between oral care and coronary artery disease.


HYGIENE Studies suggest that advanced gum disease may be a contributing factor to heart disease. Similarly, emerging science suggests that advanced gum disease may be associated with the presence of blocked arteries in the brain, a condition which may lead to a stroke.

One theory is that gum disease, if allowed to progress to periodontitis, may allow oral germs to enter the bloodstream. These germs may affect the heart by attaching to the fatty plaques in your arteries, contributing to the formation of clots. According to this theory, these clots, in turn, can cause the restriction of blood flow (a.k.a. atherosclerosis) which may lead to a heart attack or stroke. [1]

Science Behind the Theory

Some scientific studies have shown a link between oral infections and coronary artery disease. In one such study, Mattila and colleagues compared patients who had experienced a myocardial infarction, or MI, with healthy control subjects. They found that after adjusting for age, socioeconomic status, smoking, serum lipid levels and diabetes, dental health (as measured by the Total Dental Index) was worse in subjects who had experienced an MI. In another study by Mattila and colleagues, a statistically significant association was found between dental infections and atheromatosis.

In examining the effects of different oral infections on the incidence of strokes, Grau and colleagues [2] re-examined the Total Dental Index and found that only the periodontal component of the index was responsible for the association between oral infection and cerebrovascular ischemia (stroke). [3]

Cleaning Your Teeth & Gums

Some people chew gum and infrequently brush. Instead of visiting the dentist every 6 months, they only go when a tooth is loose or sore. Here is what the American Dental Association recommends to typical patients. [4]

  • Brush your teeth twice a day with an ADA-accepted fluoride toothpaste.
  • Clean between teeth daily with floss or an interdental cleaner. Decay-causing bacteria still linger between teeth where toothbrush bristles can't reach. Flossing removes plaque and food particles from between the teeth and under the gum line.
  • Eat a balanced diet and limit between-meal snacks.
  • Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral exams.

Drinking water following a meal helps to dislodge debris and dilute sugars and starches that may form tartar.

Tags: cardiology, cavities, dentists, oral hygiene

  1. Oral Care and Heart Disease. Listerine.com
  2. Association Between Acute Cerebrovascular Ischemia and Chronic and Recurrent Infection. Graw A, Buggle F, Ziegler C, et al. Stroke. 1997; 28:1724-1729
  3. Oral care for patients with cardiovascular disease and stroke. jada.ada.org, 2002
  4. Cleaning Your Teeth & Gums. American Dental Association, www.ada.org
  5. Anticipatory Guidance in Infant Oral Health: Rationale and Recommendations. American Family Physician, January 1, 2000
  6. Feed Your Baby Healthfully. ClinicalPosters.com, October 4, 2010

* Recommended by some, but not all, dentists.