We’ve heard it all our lives: Brush and floss twice daily. Otherwise, plaque buildup and stains will plague your teeth. However, poor oral hygiene can cause issues far more significant than a coffee stain or even a cavity. New research suggests that the presence of specific oral bacteria in the mouth may increase a postmenopausal woman’s risk of developing high blood pressure.
The news comes from a study written by researchers at the University at Buffalo and published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Why is the research important? “Since periodontal disease and hypertension are especially prevalent in older adults … there may be an opportunity to enhance hypertension prevention through increased, targeted oral care,” said Michael J. LaMonte, PhD, MPH, senior study author, and research professor in epidemiology at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York in a press release.
Understanding the Link Between Blood Pressure and Oral Hygiene
To find out whether oral bacteria influence our risk of high blood pressure, the study authors analyzed data on 1,215 postmenopausal women, all of whom were 53 to 81 years old. All the participants had previously been enrolled in a Buffalo Osteoporosis and Periodontal Disease study from 1997 to 2001.
At initial oral exams, the research team for the Buffalo study took samples of mouth plaque and took each participants’ blood pressure. The team also collected data on the women’s lifestyle, medications, and diets. In an initial analysis, the researchers found that about 35 percent (429 women) had normal blood pressure readings (meaning their BP numbers were at or below 120/80) without the help of medication. Almost 24 percent had elevated blood pressure, and about 40 percent had diagnosed hypertension (which is typically 140/90 or higher).
In about 10 years on average, the researchers followed up with the participants. They learned that almost a third of the women who didn’t have hypertension at initial oral exams developed it over the course of 10 years. In addition, they identified 245 unique strains of bacteria in all the plaque samples. Of those strains, 10 forms of bacteria were linked with a 10 percent to 16 percent higher risk of developing hypertension. Five other strains were linked with a nine to 18 percent lower risk of hypertension.
Why might poor oral hygiene impact blood pressure?
“There are a few ways that poor oral health can impact blood pressure,” says Kami Hoss, DDS, co-founder and CEO of The Super Dentists and author of If Your Mouth Could Talk (Preorder from Amazon, $26.95). “The presence or absence of certain bacteria in the oral microbiome can impact the reduction of inorganic nitrate to nitrite and nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a very important molecule in the body. It’s involved in various processes, including expanding the blood vessels and increasing blood flow. In fact, there have been several studies to show that indiscriminate eradication of the microbiome through antiseptic mouthwash or overuse of antibiotics can cause the increase of blood pressure.”
Without the right dental care, you could also develop chronic inflammation in your mouth, which can make matters worse. “Chronic inflammation caused by gum disease can also damage endothelial cells that line the blood vessels,” adds Dr. Hoss. “When these cells are damaged, it can result in impaired blood flow, high blood pressure, and higher risks of heart attacks and strokes.”
And high blood pressure isn’t the only thing we have to worry about. “Neglecting oral hygiene and the resulting periodontal disease can lead to many conditions and is linked to various systemic diseases,” Hoss says. “This list includes but not limited to several types of cancer, adverse pregnancy outcomes, respiratory diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.”
Fortunately, not all is lost! Brushing your teeth, and we mean really taking the time to brush and floss, can help eliminate a lot of problems. Frequent dentist visits are a tremendous help, too. “Everyone must visit their dentist AT LEAST twice a year,” says Hoss. “But of course, how you take care of your mouth the other 363 days of the year is also critically important. People need to use only safe and effective oral care products. Using the wrong products or doing things the wrong way may be doing them more harm than good.”
If you’re curious about how you can better take care of your oral hygiene, speak to your dentist! A licensed professional will be able to work with you on a specialized care routine. With the right guidance, good oral health can lead to even better physical health.
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