Dr. Randy Martin: I bet you are used to hearing from your dentist that it is a good idea to get your teeth cleaned regularly. But now, you may be hearing the same thing from your cardiologist. I met with my colleague Dr. Sara Mobasseri, an interventional cardiologist at Piedmont Hospital, to discuss new research findings that suggest a link between dental and heart health.
Sara Mobasseri, M.D., an interventional cardiologist at Piedmont Hospital, regularly talks to her patients about eating right and not smoking to reduce their cholesterol and chances of heart disease, but will she now offer patients suggestions about their dental hygiene?
“The American Heart Association released two large studies about [dental] hygiene and gum disease, which may be related to heart disease,” says Dr. Mobasseri. “[The study showed that] patients who had their teeth cleaned professionally at least once a year had fewer incidences of heart attack and stroke.”
Patients in the group with professional dental care had a 24 percent decrease in heart attacks and a 13 percent decrease in strokes.
While this study was just released, Dr. Mobasseri says that the link between dental hygiene and heart health is not a new concept.
“There has always been the observation that with poor dental hygiene, [people] are more at risk for heart disease,” she says. “It’s always been observational data, but we don’t have true, randomized research to tell us about the risk of poor hygiene and heart disease.”
While dental and heart health may be linked, there is a difference between plaque in your mouth and plaque in your arteries.
“If there is plaque or bacteria in the gums or around the teeth, although pretty harmless in the mouth, if they get into the blood stream, they can cause inflammation and plaque buildup in the arteries,” Dr. Mobasseri explains. “This is the process that causes heart attack and stroke that we are familiar with as cardiologists.”
Could it be that people who have poor dental health are also not making the best lifestyle choices, thus contributing to these instances of heart disease and stroke?
“I don’t think you can really say for sure. These were all observational studies and [researchers] didn’t control for other risk factors of heart disease, like high blood pressure, diabetes and being overweight,” she says. “When those factors are controlled, you can clearly say that hygiene is related to heart disease, but I don’t know that we can say this with confidence yet.”
So will Dr. Mobasseri start recommending that her patients get regular teeth cleanings and improve their brushing and flossing habits?
“From a heart disease standpoint, I still think we need more data and research coming forward,” she says. “Right now it is very anecdotal and by experience that we are seeing these relationships.”
Dr. Randy Martin: As Dr. Mobasseri notes, further research is needed to prove a cause and effect link between poor dental health and heart disease. However, it is never a bad idea to take good care of your teeth, so be sure you are brushing at least twice a day and flossing at least once per day. See your dentist twice a year for professional cleanings.