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Question: Is it true that poor oral hygiene may affect heart health?

Answer: Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and following the advice of a doctor are some ways to maintain good health. But the connection between oral hygiene habits and heart health shouldn’t be overlooked.

“Growing scientific evidence shows a link between periodontal disease—also known as gum disease, when the inner layer of the gum and bone pull away from the teeth to form pockets that collect debris and can become infected—and the development of cardiovascular problems like heart disease and stroke,” explains Dr. Charles Kosowski, a dentist at Columbia St. Mary’s St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Dental Clinic.

According to the American Academy of Periodontology, researchers have found that people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease—thickening of the coronary arteries walls, which can lead to heart attacks—as those without periodontal disease.

The precise relationship between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease has yet to be identified, but there are two likely connections. First, research has shown that the same bacteria entering the blood stream through the gums has been found clumped to artery plaques, thus contributing to blockages. Second, it is possible inflammation - the body’s response to infection - from oral bacteria causes blood cells to swell, in turn narrowing an artery and increasing the risk of clots.

Practicing good oral hygiene could actually save your life.

The secret to having a healthy mouth is two-fold: good daily practices and regular dental visits.  Sticking to a routine that includes brushing with fluoride toothpaste twice a day and regularly flossing can reduce gum inflammation and the risk of getting cavities. Visit your dentist every six months for a routine dental exam, which includes a teeth cleaning and an examination of your mouth for signs of oral cancer, skin problems and other possible health issues.


The Elizabeth Ann Seton Dental
Clinic offers free dental care to
the uninsured/underinsured.

Following this dental advice may seem simple, but for those who are struggling financially or living in poverty, dental care is often not a priority or not available affordably.

To fill this need, Columbia St. Mary’s founded St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Dental Clinic, Milwaukee’s “Dental Emergency Room for the Poor,” in 2001. The clinic provides routine and urgent dental care to the community’s uninsured/underinsured. In December 2009, thanks to assistance from donors to CSM and its Foundation, the clinic moved and expanded to better serve the more than 11,000 patient encounters each year.

If you would like to make a gift to support the Seton Dental Clinic, click here.


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