The Oral Health and Heart Health Link

As the month of May draws to a close, we approach World No Tobacco Day, held on the 31st of May every year. The World Health Organization arranges the annual event to build awareness of the very real health risks associated with tobacco use. This year’s campaign is “Tobacco Breaks Hearts: Choose Health, not Tobacco.” Dental professionals have long been aware of the association between tobacco use and decreased oral health. However, interestingly enough, oral health and heart health also have a close association. So, in keeping with the WHO theme for the year, it’s worth considering how heart health and oral health are linked.


1. Poor oral health and poor cardiac health are both linked to—you guessed it—tobacco use.

One of the reasons that oral health and heart health are linked, in addition to an independent link between the two, is that both diseases share a pool of other risk factors, including tobacco use.  Not only does quitting tobacco use decrease your likelihood of heart attack and stroke, it also decreases your risk of serious gum disease.


2. The bacteria that causes diseases in your mouth can contribute to heart disease!

The link between heart health and oral health warrants further research, since we do not have a complete understanding of the relationship. What we do know is that oral bacteria can move into the bloodstream and cause problems. Oral bacteria have been found in the plaques that build up on the walls of diseased blood vessels, as well. Once in the bloodstream oral bacteria increase inflammation, particularly c-reactive protein, which increases stroke and heart attack risk. Treating bacterial overgrowth in the mouth is known to help preserve tooth and gum health, and it may help keep inflammatory factors down that can damage blood vessels in the heart or brain.  Like most health interventions, it works best to treat the problem early, so visit your dentist regularly.


3.  Heart disease can complicate dental care, so let your dentist know about developing issues.

Certain cardiac conditions need a little extra care while you are receiving dental care. If you are prone to or suffering from endocarditis, an infection around the heart, you should let your dentist know before you receive care. Some patients need antibiotics before oral care to help protect their heart. It works both ways—patients who need a heart valve replaced should have a dental check before surgery if possible to protect their hearts from a bacterial infection after valve surgery.

After a heart attack, patients are advised to wait six months before major dental procedures. There is no need to wait for routine cleanings and plenty of reasons to keep up with regular cleanings to help avoid major problems. Certain heart medications can impact gum health, so make sure you communicate all your medications to your dental care team. Whether the medications you take cause dry mouth or gum swelling and overgrowth, your dentist can help you balance your risks of decreased oral health from medication with the necessity of taking your medication as prescribed.


Your heart health and your oral health are linked, and both of them benefit from avoiding tobacco. On World No Tobacco Day (WNTD), consider checking in with your dentist as a step to improving your overall health. It’s never too late to take steps to improve your health!


For further reading–risk-for-cv-disease


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