Oral hygiene: brushing your teeth protects the heart

The approximately 700 distinct species of bacteria that live in our mouths pose a constant threat to the health of our teeth: in the absence of hygiene, these bacteria adhere to the tooth surface to form a kind of sticky, whitish coating known as dental plaque. Bacteria trapped in this plaque use the sugar in leftover food to grow, generating acids that attack tooth enamel (as well as smelly compounds that cause bad breath). When this plaque is not removed daily by brushing the teeth, it combines with the minerals present in the saliva to
form a calcified deposit (tartar) as well as perforations in the enamel (caries). Dental caries can therefore be considered an infectious disease of the tooth, an infection which can nevertheless be largely prevented by basic oral hygiene techniques such as regular brushing of the teeth and the use of dental floss.

Oral bacteria damage blood vessels

These hygiene measures are important, because in addition to cavities, dental plaque can worsen over time and cause inflammation of the gums (gingivitis). This gingivitis can cause serious damage, because the presence of large amounts of inflammatory cells is extremely irritating to the gums and causes considerable damage to the tissues surrounding the tooth, including the bone that serves as an anchor. In addition to frequent bleeding, this necrosis causes the stability of the tooth to become increasingly precarious, a phenomenon that can ultimately lead to the pure and simple loss of the tooth. The presence of lesions in the gums also allows bacteria to enter the bloodstream and trigger a commotion in the cells of the immune system; the inflammation associated with this immunity can then damage the wall of blood vessels and thus promote the formation of atherosclerotic lesions. Previous studies have also suggested a close link between diseases of the mouth and the onset of cardiovascular disease.

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Oral hygiene: when oral bacteria become a cause of death

Researchers have examined the possible link between gum disease and abdominal aortic aneurysms, another disorder that affects blood vessels. These aneurysms are characterized by a swelling of certain sections of the aorta due to the weakening of the wall of this artery which makes it unable to resist the pressure exerted by the blood circulation (to visualize the phenomenon, imagine a gut of worn sprinkler that swells in some places). These aneurysms are very dangerous because when the wall becomes too thin, the aorta ruptures and causes a drastic drop in blood flow which most often leads to death.

Following the removal of small sections of human aneurysm by surgery, the researchers made the astonishing observation that these tissues contained a bacterium from the mouth (Porphyromonas gingivalis) recognized for its involvement in the formation of gingivitis. Further studies have shown that the presence of these bacteria in the aorta causes the recruitment of inflammatory immune cells that produce different enzymes that “digest” the wall of the aorta and make it more susceptible to rupture. In other words, during a chronic oral infection by certain bacteria, these manage to infiltrate the bloodstream and recruit inflammatory cells which damage the wall of certain blood vessels.

Taking care of your dental health is therefore not only a matter of aesthetics; it is in fact an act that can have an extremely beneficial impact on the health of the cardiovascular system.

Desvarieux M et al. Relationship between periodontal disease, tooth loss, and carotid artery plaque: the Oral Infections and Vascular Disease Epidemiology Study. stroke; 34:2120-5.
Delbosc S et al. Porphyromonas gingivalis participates in pathogenesis of human abdominal aortic aneurysm by neutrophil activation. PLoS ONE; 6: e18679.

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