A time for kisses and hearts. Who would have though there is a more scientific link between your mouth and your heart – a much less romantic one?
Can poor Dental Health break your heart? Not just by taking you out of the kissing pool if you have smelly breath, there is a much more sinister link between oral bacteria and heart problems. Let us explain…
Living in our mouths, we have zillions of microbes, all jostling and vying for the tastiest morsels of the food you eat; they live on your teeth, soft palate, cheek, tongue, throat and in and around the gums.
We all know about keeping our teeth clean and flossing to lift the dental plaque (a substance that is actually made by and made up of, bacteria, sugars and salts), from around our teeth and just below the gum line.
We all think dental health is all about keeping gum disease at bay and to keep our teeth and mouth, kissably-sweet and free of bad breath (halitosis).
There is another reason for keen dental health and one which may be a little more challenging to sort out.
Just under the gum line, usually tantalisingly out of reach of most toothbrushes, there lives a particular bacterium called Streptococcus viridans. “Viridis” is Latin for green and describes the greenish tinge that this bacteria can cause. How attractive!
This bacterium can live in the margins just under the gums and are often found where there is a fixed appliance installed; if there is any damage or bleeding like when tooth extraction is done (or you develop bleeding gum disease – gingivitis), the bacteria can enter the blood stream.
This is usually a challenge that our immune systems are equipped to handle; our white blood cells can spot these potential marauders and do their Pac-Man thing and eradicate them.
But…. Strep. viridans can land on the heart valves which control the blood flow (we have all heard of operations for heart valve surgery), and because they have a unique ability to synthesize “dextrans” from glucose, this allows them to adhere to those heart valves. They metaphorically “buy” their way into the heart valve tissue cells, by bearing gifts of the kind of sugars the heart valves need.
They can also cause Endocarditis – which is an inflammation of the inner layer of the heart muscle.
The main problem comes because unlike all the other muscle cells in our bodies, heart valves don’t have a vascular supply, in other words, they don’t have a direct connection to the blood flow and the immune system. So the bacteria can hide out of reach of the immune system.
Anywhere else in the body, they would be mopped up, but once they are hiding in the mitral valve, they are unpoliced.
The bacteria gradually infect and erode the heart valve tissues and it ends up looking like a lacy doily. This can go on for years, gradually reducing the efficiency of the heart, until a major heart crisis occurs and the damage is discovered.
The remedy? Make sure you clean your teeth the way your dentist recommends; use an antibacterial mouth wash and if you are worried, ask your dentist to help you get tested for oral bacteria counts and species.
You may want to seek the help of a Holistic Dentist if your dentist “doesn’t believe this stuff”, or is unaware of how to help you. They are rare, but there if you Google “Holistic Dentist” in your area you should find one within reasonable distance.
Try to eat less sugar as glucose is a great source of food for the bacteria growing in your mouth.
So here is the connection between heart valve disease and poor dental hygiene. It’s not just about being ready for kissing, it is about protecting your heart from disease. Not only would you not be kissable, but this microbe could literally break your heart.
Happy Valentines Day. Keep your kisses sweet and your heart healthy!