Chew On This

Dental hygienist flossing a patient's teeth du...

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Here’s something we can all sink our teeth into: Flossing saves lives. We don’t often think of periodontal disease as a major health risk, but by gum (by golly) recent research states otherwise. Researchers believe that bacteria living along the gum line and between our teeth contributes to the risk of stroke, heart attack, possibly even dementia.

Gum disease causes strokes? When our gums harbor bacteria, and they’re left unchecked, they can flood into our arteries and bloodstream. It seems that high levels of these bacteria in the bloodstream foster cerebrovascular disease. As small plaques form in our carotid arteries—the major pipes to our brain—our risk of stroke increases if these plaques rupture. Carotid plaques that rupture cause thrombosis (blockage) or shedding of more blood clots traveling to the brain causing strokes. Bacteria from the gums settle on these plaques; this causes an inflammatory reaction resulting in plaque rupture and later thrombosis.

It doesn’t just stop there of course. Those same bacteria travel in the bloodstream and lodge on other developing plaques in the arteries. If those partly blocked arteries are in our coronary circulation, the resulting thrombosis leads to a heart attack. In seemingly normal, healthy folks, early heart disease is hard to detect. But bleeding gums after flossing is immediately obvious and alerts us to hidden gum disease, potential for bacterial growth between the teeth, and the resulting bad bacteria leaking into our arteries.

What about these same bacteria causing dementia? It seems that some researchers believe that a common bacteria found in the mouth causes an inflammatory reaction that triggers the cascade of events leading to Alzheimer’s disease. More research in this area remains before we can say that daily flossing will not only keep us healthier but also smarter. For now it makes sense that if you want to stay healthy put some of your discretionary healthcare money where your mouth is and floss everyday.

About Steve P. Sanders

A general internist writing and sharing ideas and art.

2 Responses to “Chew On This”

  1. Keep up the excelent work, bookmarked and referred a few mates.

  2. Good evening

    Great share, thanks for your time

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