By Lucy Maher
From the age of about 2, most of us have learned the importance of proper teeth brushing: It removes plaque and reduces the chance of tooth decay and gum disease.
But it turns out keeping your teeth clean also has major benefits when it comes to your heart health.
“Although it may seem strange, the mouth and the heart are actually connected,” says Danielle Ellington, MA, an associate professor of dental hygiene at Loma Linda School of Dentistry. ”The reason your gums are pink is because they have blood flowing through them, and this blood circulates throughout your body. People who have periodontal disease, a condition caused most frequently by poor oral home care and lack of professional care, are more likely to expose their heart and cardiovascular system to harmful bacteria; this happens when the bacteria causing said periodontal disease that are found within someone's mouth and gums travels into their bloodstream and eventually makes its way into the heart.”
Studies have linked gum disease with an increased risk of developing heart disease. Poor dental health has also been found to impact one’s heart valves especially in those with artificial heart valves. What’s more, researchers have identified a connection between diabetes and cardiovascular disease and it is thought that people with diabetes benefit from periodontal treatment.
A recent study of 682 people by the American Heart Association has uncovered more reason to keep your teeth healthy: It found that folks who brushed less than twice a day for less than two minutes had three times the risk of having or dying from a heart attack, heart failure, or stroke than those who said they brushed at least twice a day for at least two minutes.
While this news sounds pretty dire, it doesn’t have to be if you follow a few key strategies for keeping your teeth healthy.
Though brushing for less time may still make your teeth feel clean, there are likely bits of food left behind that can end up as nasty plaque which contains acids that can erode tooth enamel. Use a fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled brush. If it helps you, or you have kids that need help meeting this mark, set a timer on your bathroom sink.
“The two minutes needs to be equally divided to ensure all teeth are sufficiently cleaned,” Ellington explains. “You don't want to spend one-and-a-half minutes brushing just your front teeth and forget your molars.”
You may be tempted to brush back and forth, scrubbing your teeth to get them clean.
A better way includes holding your toothbrush at a slight angle, and starting each stroke at the area where your tooth meets your gum. Gently use circular, short back-and-forth motions to brush each section. And avoid brushing too hard as this can hurt your gums.
As for an electric toothbrush? It’s okay if that’s what you prefer.
“While studies show that there is no difference between the brushing efficacy of a manual vs. electric toothbrush,” says Heather Kunen, DDS, MS, an orthodontist in New York City, “I tend to find that those patients who use electric toothbrushes maintain better oral health and look forward to brushing.”
But no matter what kind of toothbrush you use, the tooth cleaning doesn’t end there. Flossing, says Ellington, is crucial and you miss 50% of your tooth surface if you skip it. “Ensuring you are getting the floss in between the teeth and creating moderate friction with the floss to remove plaque and bacteria is critical in prevention of both periodontal disease and cavity development,” she says.
And no matter the type, it’s also important to make sure you are paying attention to your toothbrush. The American Dental Association recommends replacing it every three to four months, or more often if the bristles become frayed or matted. Rinse it thoroughly after each use and stand it upright to properly dry. Don’t share your toothbrush; in doing so you run the risk of swapping bodily fluids and microbes.
Sign up to receive our monthly newsletter, offering the latest health & wellness news and savings tips, delivered right to your inbox.