USC University of Southern California

Prevention: The Best Gift for Those You Love

Failing to take preventive oral health care seriously with good dental hygiene and other healthy habits doesn’t just hurt your smile. It could possibly harm your heart as well.

“More and more publications are providing evidence that suggests a link between chronic oral infection and heart disease,” said Hessam Nowzari, director of the advanced periodontics program at the USC School of Dentistry.

About 80 million American adults–approximately one in three–have one or more forms of cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association. Many recent periodontology studies indicate that people with infections in the tissues that surround the teeth are nearly twice as likely to have heart disease, Nowzari said, adding that the onset of oral infection also appears to make existing heart ailments more severe.

One prevailing theory holds that bacteria residing in the “pockets” between teeth and gum tissue may enter the bloodstream in the mouth and travel to the heart, attaching to fatty plaques and contributing to clot formation and artery thickening, said Nowzari. Another possibility is that the immune system’s inflammatory response to the chronic oral infection may itself cause plaque buildup and artery swelling, he added.

Oral infection’s role as an aggravating factor in heart disease highlights the need for prevention and healthy habits on all fronts, including a balanced diet, regular exercise and a proper oral hygiene routine. Regular preventive checkups help patients identify risk factors, take a proactive role in maintaining their health and minimize both the financial and the physical costs of health care, Nowzari said.

Both doctors and dentists should be part of one’s health care team, especially for anyone at risk for or diagnosed with heart disease,” he said.

February celebrates not only Valentine’s Day but also marks both American Heart Month and National Wise Health Consumer Month. It’s a great time to talk with loved ones about obtaining proper preventive care and staying healthy well into the future, Nowzari said.

“Inform the people you care about that their health is important to you,” he said.