A Matter of the Heart

It’s February- a month that conjures thoughts of love and the heart. It’s one of my favorites! I think this time of year is dear to me for two reasons: 1. The busy holidays are behind us and 2. In February of 2012 I experienced the indescribable love a mother feels for her first born.

In addition, through supporting my beloved husband, who has worked as a hospital administrator for the past 14 years, I have been involved in running for the heart, going red for women, wearing red at fundraisers, and listening to cardiologists talk about the importance of prevention as it relates to heart disease.  It is clear that Americans are passionate about the prevention and treatment of heart related chronic illness.

As a dentist I can tell you something I do not love… and that is periodontal disease. While we are conjuring images, you are probably imaging bleeding gums, bad breath, and that toothless relative that made “poor dental choices.” All of those conditions are possible in patients with periodontitis, but a far greater concern is that periodontal disease can have a significant impact on our overall health. It is well understood by dentists that the mouth is the gateway to our systemic condition. When it comes to the correlation between heart disease, inflammation, and periodontal disease we (conventional and holistic providers and dentists) concur that the wrong type of oral bacteria is detrimental to our overall health.

To clarify, the red bleeding gums you envisioned earlier is what dentist call gingivitis. Gingivitis is an inflammatory reaction to pathogenic bacteria taking over in the mouth. Bad breath is also caused by bacteria and the volatile compounds they produce. Tooth loss, mobility, deep gum pockets, and chronic gum inflammation are the hallmark traits of periodontal disease. Ok, so what’s the big deal about oral inflammation? Remember the gateway… Studies show overwhelming connections between periodontitis and heart disease. There are ongoing studies focused on defining the direct link, however, today there are two indisputable discoveries:

  • The same bacteria found in gum disease are also found in atherosclerotic vessels.
  • When people have moderate to severe gum disease their levels of C-reactive protein increase. CRP rises during whole body inflammation, and is used clinically to assess a person’s risk of heart attack.

So what can you do to decrease your risk of systemic health problems cause by detrimental oral bacteria?

  • Regular dental exams and professional cleanings by a dental hygienist. In our practice we take a plaque sample from each patient, and use a phase contrast microscope to identify their oral flora. Our team uses traditional cleaning methods, ozone, essential oils, and specific irrigation solutions to target each individual’s unique issues.
  • Good home care! I strongly recommend Oral irrigation in conjunction with brushing. If you ever had braces growing up, you remember that Waterpik that collected dust, because you were way to busy to fit that into your busy teenage schedule (eye roll). In a 1988 study it was determined that irrigation reduces gum bleeding, pocket depths, gingivitis, periodontal pathogens, and decreases a patient’s risk of bacteremia. Note that periodontal bacteria increase cytokine levels, and irrigating daily leads to a reduction in pro-inflammatory cytokines.

I get questions about oil pulling all the time. Oil pulling originated in India and is described in ancient Ayurveda texts. It is the rinsing and pulling of oils (usually coconut) for around 20 minutes and then spiting out the oil. So why coconut oil? It’s an edible oil and it is very rich in Lauric Acid. Lauric Acid is anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial. I generally tell patients that it is a good tool in conjunction with proper brushing and irrigating.

I will likely devote a future blog post to Nitric Oxide and Myofunctional Therapy, but if you are curious about those topics now check out this blog: myfacology.com (Mouth Breathing, Nitric Oxide and Your Health)

Due to the increasing number of professional articles released relating oral health and systemic health I’m sure that we will be able to dive in deeper in future blogs. One additional note, let’s be clear that our goal is a healthy microbiome not total bacteria annihilation!

I’ll close with this pearl of wisdom:

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23

I think we all agree that love makes life worth living, and I am in awe of this timeless advice. We must physically and spiritually guard our hearts, not just this month but everyday to live in optimal wellness.

Cheers! A Valentine’s toast to our hearts and our gums, and there’s nothing more attractive than a beautiful smile!

*References available upon request