Maintaining a healthy heart is a no-brainer! Eating the right foods, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight are things most of us know we should be doing to keep our cardiovascular systems in check. But did you know that oral health can positively or negatively affect your heart? While seniors typically take long-term heart health seriously, relatively little attention is paid to oral health unless there is a specific dental problem.
According to recent research, dental care and hygiene not only help you maintain strong and healthy teeth but may also positively contribute to healthy heart function!
How Age Affects Oral Health
Aging, itself, is not the only cause of dental problems, however, the lifestyle and habitual changes that come with aging can impair oral health for seniors. For instance, many senior medications used to treat conditions such as anxiety and allergies have side effects like dry mouth. A dry mouth favors the growth of infectious bacteria that can cause many dental problems, most notably, cavity formation. In addition, medical conditions such as arthritis or Alzheimer’s may prevent seniors from performing crucial dental care like brushing or flossing from either physical or mental limitations. Some people are even genetically predisposed to periodontal disease which gets worse with age.
How Oral Health May Affect Your Heart
Recently, the connection between oral health and heart health has become a major topic in medical research. Contemporary studies have demonstrated a link between poor oral health and an increased risk of developing heart disease. Supporting evidence has found oral bacteria at the site of blood vessel blockage.
The following oral conditions may affect heart health:
Bacteria that cause gingivitis and periodontitis reside in teeth plaque. These bacteria travel to other blood vessels in the body where they can cause inflammation and damage. Prolonged inflammation in blood vessels can lead to the formation of new plaque which then blocks vessels to the heart and can consequently trigger a heart attack.
Oral bacteria which can move to other blood vessels may release toxic materials which force the body’s immune system to react. The immune reaction may damage the wall of blood vessels and cause blood clots.
Diabetes is known to increase the risk of heart disease. Oral hygiene helps to reduce the incidence and severity of diabetes by helping to improve blood sugar control in patients, decreasing the progression of the disease which helps support healthy heart function.
Dental Care Tips for Seniors
In order to avoid risks with poor dental hygiene, seniors can maintain better oral health by following the tips below:
- Brush twice a day using a toothbrush with soft bristles and fluoride-containing toothpaste.
- Replace any toothbrushes with bent bristles.
- Seniors with hand motion challenges may use an electric toothbrush to enhance care
- Floss daily
- Clean between your teeth once a day
- Rinse your mouth with antiseptic mouthwash at least once a day
- If you wear dentures, clean them daily
- Drink tap water when possible as it contains fluoride which fights tooth decay
- Quit smoking to prevent tooth decay and tooth loss
- Remind your loved one to help them maintain oral hygiene
- Visit your dentist every 6 months or more frequently as needed.
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet, low in sugary and acidic foods
Since oral health deteriorates with age, knowing its possible influence on your cardiovascular health should help you prioritize taking care of your teeth!
When properly maintained and cared for, your teeth can last a lifetime. As soon as you notice a problem, visit your dentist immediately and make sure to attend your regular check-ups. Speak with your doctor or healthcare professional if you have concerns about your heart health.