Brush, floss, rinse: Three simple steps that are supposed to keep your teeth and gums healthy for a lifetime. Yet, reality paints a far different picture. According to the National Institutes of Health, most adults show signs of both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. It’s so serious that two-thirds of middle-aged Americans have lost at least one tooth to a cavity—technically known as dental caries—or to gum disease. And the problem just grows worse as people get older. Among those over 60, one-fourth have lost all of their teeth to decay. This adds up to trouble for seniors—and the problems can go far beyond your dentist’s chair.
The Mouth-Heart Connection
Research shows that poor oral health is linked to several types of cardiovascular disease. Accumulated bacteria hiding deep in periodontal pockets and around the teeth can boost your chances of a heart attack or stroke. Findings in the Journal of Periodontology report that people who had suffered a heart attack had nine times more periodontal bacteria in the pockets than people who had never had a heart attack. But you don’t need full-blown periodontal disease to risk cardiovascular problems. Scandinavian scientists have found that people over the age of 80 with three or four cavities located in the roots of teeth have an increased risk of an irregular heartbeat—a condition known as cardiac arrhythmia.
The bacterial imbalance in your mouth causing all this havoc also reflects an imbalance in your gut flora. This sets the stage for excessive inflammation and a bacterial overgrowth that impacts both your oral health and your cardiovascular system. Researchers suspect that the bacteria from gum disease travels through the bloodstream and attaches to fatty deposits in the arteries. Over time, this can cause blood clots and may lead to heart attacks.
Are you at risk? The first thing you may notice is bleeding gums—a sign of gingivitis that can progress into full-blown periodontal disease. While your dentist will have various recommendations for improving your oral hygiene, adding a probiotic supplement designed to support healthy intestinal flora is also a good idea. Not only will a multi-strain probiotic help re-establish a healthy microbiome, it will also reduce systemic inflammation. Look for a probiotic that provides 20 billion live, active bacteria and includes the well-studied Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and Bifodobacterium bifidum.
Another effective inflammation-fighter is curcumin. A growing number of studies show that, in addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin acts as a powerful antibacterial that can help reverse periodontal disease when used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. But don’t be fooled into thinking you can simply sprinkle some turmeric, the plant rhizome from which curcumin comes from, on your favorite dish or pop a turmeric supplement. Curcumin is a molecule that is difficult to absorb. Make sure to choose a curcumin supplement that is blended with turmeric essential oil, which naturally boosts absorption up to 10 times that of standard extracts.
Winning The Bacteria Battle
According to preliminary research, another supplement that may help you achieve bacterial balance in your mouth is propolis. This natural substance is made by bees to protect their hives and it’s a capable warrior against the bacteria that can take up residence in the gums and in the spaces between teeth. Propolis also possesses potent anti-inflammatory properties, giving it whole-body benefits. When choosing a propolis product, however, avoid any that are untested as they could contain waxes, resin, and potential allergens. Instead, look for a pure, clinically tested supplement like GH2002. This propolis extract is concentrated and wax-free with the added bonus of superior absorption. It’s also hypoallergenic and safe for children.
Plant oils are another weapon in your arsenal for good oral health. A combination of thyme, cinnamon, clove, and oregano oils blended with extra-virgin olive oil can be taken in capsule form. While each of these concentrated plant oils provides strong immune system support when used alone, taken together they provide a powerhouse of anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial benefits to improve your oral health.
The Whole-Body Effects of Periodontal Disease
The widespread health effects of periodontal disease aren’t limited to your cardiovascular system. Just as some medical conditions can make you more susceptible to dental caries and periodontal disease, poor oral health can let bacteria enter your bloodstream, cause inflammation, and wreak havoc elsewhere in your body. In fact, there are over 100 systemic diseases linked to chronic periodontal disease and tooth decay. These include respiratory disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, Sjogren’s syndrome, eating disorders, certain STDs, and HIV/AIDS. Periodontal disease also increases the risk of some types of cancer.
While basic hygiene can help protect your teeth and gums, regular visits to your dentist and actively restoring bacterial bliss to your mouth through smart supplementation can shut the door on periodontal disease and its contribution to chronic health problems. And that’s definitely something to smile about!
The Signs of Gum Disease
- Gums are red, swollen, and sore to the touch
- Gums bleed when you eat, brush, or floss
- Any sign of redness or infection around the gums
- Gums look as if they are pulling away from the teeth
- Frequent bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth
- Loose teeth or teeth moving away from other teeth
Brushing properly twice a day can mean the difference between a dazzling smile and a mouthful of plaque. Yet, many people don’t brush correctly. Proper brushing takes at least two minutes, but most of us don’t come close to brushing that long. Try timing yourself until you can accurately estimate the time it takes to clean your teeth. And remember to replace your toothbrush every three to four months. Researchers have established that thousands of microbes that could lead to periodontal disease grow on toothbrush bristles and handles.
No matter how frequently you brush, the bacterial plaque remaining on your teeth can only be effectively removed by thorough dental flossing at least once a day. However, according to scientific studies, it’s important to floss after brushing to reduce the amount of bacteria that gets pushed into the gums while flossing.