Here's how poor oral hygiene can cause heart disease

Bacteria growing in the oral cavity can enter the bloodstream and cause infection in the heart valves or heart tissues.

Myupchar September 24, 2019 15:03:16 IST
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Here's how poor oral hygiene can cause heart disease
  • Bacteria growing in the oral cavity can enter the bloodstream and cause infection in the heart valves or heart tissues

  • In people who are particular about oral hygiene, the number of bacteria reduces but doesnÃ�¢ï¿½ï¿½t go down to zero

  • In people who are lax about oral hygiene, there is a greater chance that one of these microorganisms could find its way into their heart via the bloodstream

Ignoring oral health can put your heart at risk. Bacteria growing in the oral cavity can enter the bloodstream and cause infection in the heart valves or heart tissues.

Inflammation in the innermost lining of the heart muscle as well as heart valves is known as endocarditis or infective endocarditis (IE).

Heres how poor oral hygiene can cause heart disease

Representational image. Image source: Getty Images

What’s the link

Our oral cavity harbours millions of bacteria. In people who are particular about oral hygiene, the number of bacteria reduces but doesn’t go down to zero. In people who are lax about oral hygiene, there is a greater chance that one of these microorganisms could find its way into their heart via the bloodstream.

Once bacteria finds its way into the blood vessels — a condition known as bacteremia (presence of bacteria in the blood) — it looks for the cosiest place where it is guaranteed nutrition, to reproduce. This search leads it to the heart.

Of course, not all the bacteria residing in the oral cavity cause endocarditis. Staphylococcus aureus and some other variants of streptococcus are the most common culprits in bacteremia - some fungi can also cause endocarditis, though this is rare.

The way to the heart

Once bacteria reaches the heart, it can damage the four heart valves. The valves are like the guard doors of the heart. They make sure that blood always travels in the right direction, so it can reach every corner of the body.

Though this is rare, infectious bacteria can enter the bloodstream even during routine tasks like if you brush your teeth aggressively or floss too hard, or even as you are picking a tooth with a wooden toothpick.

Undergoing dental procedures like extraction, root canal treatment or flap surgeries that are often accompanied by some bleeding can also cause bacteremia.

While a bacterial infection of this nature can happen to anyone, people with an underlying heart condition are at greater risk. Some factors that increase one’s risk are:

  • Having an artificial or prosthetic heart valve
  • Having a heart valve repaired with an artificial material
  • Having a defect in the heart valve
  • Having a previous history of infective endocarditis
  • Having congenital heart defects

Prevention

Regularly brushing, flossing and maintaining oral health can keep most bacteria out of your mouth, and your heart. It helps to visit the dentist every six months, for dental care - even if you are just getting a thorough cleaning.

For people with heart conditions, the American Heart Association (AHA) has issued guidelines before they undergo dental procedures that involve any manipulation of gum tissues, digging inside the tooth, perforating oral tissues. The guidelines include an antibiotic regimen - if you have a heart condition, please alert your dentist to it.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health. Read our in-depth article on endocarditis for more information on this heart condition.

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