Did you know that people with gum disease have up to three times the risk of a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular events?
If you just said, “whaaaaat?!?!” in response to that, yeah… I know—that was my reaction too!
And get this!
The statistics around heart disease and gum disease are shockingly similar, with both affecting nearly half (or more) of US adults (1)(2).
Coincidence? Maybe. But with the incidence of heart disease steadily rising, researchers are exploring every possibility that could contribute to a person’s risk, and—in addition to poor diet and lifestyle—they’re finding that gum disease could be another plausible root cause.
Today, we’re talking about the mouth-body connection and how the health of our gums impacts the health of the rest of our bodies and our chronic disease risk.
I’m also giving you some practical tips in my Try This protocol on how you can optimize your teeth, gums, and oral microbiome to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Let’s jump right in!
What does your gum health have to do with your heart health?
Let’s connect the dots together.
Your gums are super vascular, and the blood that circulates throughout your body is also being supplied to the tissue in your mouth.
And just like your gut has its own microbiome of bacteria that plays a key part in its overall health and function, your mouth does too. This is your oral microbiome, and keeping it balanced with the right kind of bacteria is key for maintaining optimal health for your teeth and gums.
When bad bacteria outnumber the good bacteria in your oral microbiome, it can result in inflamed, painful, weak, and tender gums.
The biggest culprits for oral dysbiosis are a lack of brushing and flossing and eating a crappy diet of processed food and sugar.
Dentists refer to this inflamed swelling of the gums as gingivitis, and if left untreated, it can turn into full-blown gum disease or periodontitis—a more advanced stage of gum disease where your gums become so swollen that they begin to form pockets around your teeth.
These pockets allow bacteria to travel from the inside of your mouth down below the gum line and into your blood circulation. Once foreign bacteria invaders enter your bloodstream, your immune system starts firing ammunition to clear them out. This is where we start to run into problems with our arterial health.
The Link between Gum Health, Heart Health, and Alzheimer’s
When our immune system becomes activated, it results in inflammation, which can damage the arteries. Eventually, bad bacteria can become lodged into the arteries, resulting in immune cells swarming the site of infection, foam cell formation, and plaque buildup.
Studies show that people with a history of heart disease often have certain types of oral bacteria present in the plaque of their arteries (3). Researchers have also found an association between high levels of antibodies against P. gingivalis, the most common culprit of gum disease, and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and dementia (4).
This just goes to show that your gum health needs to be a priority when it comes to protection against cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline.
If you have dark-red, swollen, or tender gums; bleeding while brushing or flossing; pockets in your gums; or persistent bad breath, these could be signs of gingivitis.
The good news is that mild cases of gingivitis are reversible and can clear up with the proper home care, routine maintenance, and regular checkups by your dentist. In today’s protocol, I’m giving you some at-home strategies you can try to protect your gums—and your heart!—by rebalancing your oral microbiome.
Before we jump into the protocol, I want to thank today’s Try This sponsor, Beekeeper’s Naturals.
My travel schedule has been picking up a lot these days. Whether I’m on the road or flying, proactively supporting my immune system is always top of mind, which is why I bring my Beekeeper’s Propolis Throat Spray with me wherever I go.
Propolis is a compound made by bees that our ancestors have used for its insane healing properties for thousands of years. Propolis fights germs and is rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, zinc, iron, B vitamins, and over 300 other beneficial compounds that support the immune system.
I love Beekeeper’s Propolis Spray because it’s super soothing on my throat, the first place I usually feel a cold coming on. Plus, Beekeeper’s only uses the cleanest ingredients and is third-party tested to ensure it’s pesticide-free—a major win for us and the bees!
And it’s not just me who loves Beekeeper’s products. Both of my sisters use their throat spray and rave about it, too! My oldest sister loves it so much that she gives her children their special kid’s formula to help them stay safe at camp and school.
Beekeeper’s is offering my Try This community 25% off their entire purchase with the code DHRU25 at checkout. Click this link to save on Beekeeper’s Propolis Throat spray and other amazing products.
Now, let’s get back to today’s protocol!
Before we get into the protocol, I want to double-down on the basics really quickly, which is to make sure you’re brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day. Also, preventive care is the best care for optimal oral health, which brings me to my first recommendation:
- Schedule a routine checkup with your dentist every six months. Scheduling a biannual dentist appointment is critical for preventing and treating gum disease—and yet a lot of people don’t follow through with this. If you’re looking for a dentist near you who practices Functional Dentistry, check out the Find a Dentist Directory. If you live in Southern California, I would highly recommend my personal dentist, Dr. Rosie Rashtian.A Functional or Biological Dentist is also going to remind you why it’s so important to reduce ultra-processed foods and prioritize whole foods to get to the root of why gum disease is so rampant. On the topic of food, here’s a tweet from Dr. Mark Burhenne on the top foods to focus on if you have gum disease:
- Floss regularly. Dr. Rashtian once told me something at one of our checkups that really stuck with me. She said that flossing your teeth is actually more important than brushing in her opinion!Now, that doesn’t mean that brushing isn’t important; it just means that most people brush every day and totally forget to floss. But flossing helps get rid of the debris between our teeth that is connected to the development of tooth decay and gum disease.
- Switch to an electric toothbrush. Brushing too hard is another top reason for gum disease. Why? Because when you brush too hard, it winds up wearing down your gum tissue and causing gum recession. An easy way to prevent this is to switch to using an electric toothbrush and focus on brushing lightly. I really like my Sonic Electric Toothbrush. You can get one on Amazon for a great price.
- Use mouth tape at night. We talked about the benefits of mouth taping in last week’s newsletter, but I had to mention it again here. Breathing with your mouth open at night can promote the growth of bad oral bacteria. Mouth taping is an overall amazing tool for enhancing nitric oxide production and circulation, and it can protect our heart and gum health as well.
- Stop using regular mouthwash. Mouthwash destroys the good bacteria in your mouth, which we need to maintain a healthy mouth microbiome and prevent gum disease. Toss your conventional mouthwash in the trash and focus on the basics of oral hygiene. If you absolutely need a recommendation for a clean mouth wash. I’ve heard this one is great.
- Tongue scraping. Speaking of the basics of oral hygiene, this old Ayurvedic practice is a staple in my routine. Scraping your tongue every day can prevent bacteria buildup on your tongue and reduce gum inflammation from gingivitis. Because your tongue is connected to your vagus nerve, another benefit of tongue scraping is increased vagal tone, which activates your parasympathetic nervous system and promotes relaxation and calmness.
In Functional Medicine, we look at the body as a network of interconnected systems—with each one dynamically influencing the others.
The mouth-body connection is no exception. The relationship between our oral health and the health of the rest of our bodies is undeniable, and good oral hygiene is just one more way we can lower our risk for chronic disease.
Here’s to your gum health,