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Worth of Mouth - The latest on business, wellness and more

Word of Mouth

The latest on business, wellness and more 

American Heart Month: Educate your team about gum health, bad teeth and heart disease

When your employees think about getting heart-healthy, chances are they’ll think first and foremost about changing their diet, starting an exercise program or quitting a bad habit like smoking.

These are all great ways to get the heart in better shape, but what your employees may not realize is that their oral health is also a crucial part of their heart health. During American Heart Month this February, take the time to remind employees about the often-overlooked connection between gum disease, tooth infection and heart health.

The connection between the heart and the mouth

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the U.S. About 695,000 Americans die from heart disease each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies have uncovered a connection between heart disease and gum health, revealing that the presence of gum disease could triple the risk of a heart attack. This is believed to be due to inflammation from bacteria in the gums, which may eventually lead to a narrowing of arteries and subsequent heart complications.

So, how can a tooth infection cause heart problems? Like most people, your employees probably tend to think of the mouth as completely separate from the rest of the body. However, a growing body of evidence now supports the idea of the oral-systemic connection, emphasizing the interplay between oral health and overall well-being, including cardiovascular health. One of the primary gateways for this connection is the bloodstream.

Periodontal disease, a chronic inflammatory condition affecting the gums and supporting structures of the teeth, has been identified as a potential risk factor for heart disease. The link between periodontal disease and cardiovascular issues lies in the inflammatory response triggered by oral bacteria. When gums are infected, bacteria can enter the bloodstream, leading to systemic inflammation and affecting blood vessels throughout the body.

Signs of gum disease and tooth decay

Maintaining oral health isn’t just about a bright smile, it's an important part of our overall well-being. Before we delve into the various ways teeth are connected to hearts, here are some common warning signs to watch out for:

  • Bleeding gums – One of the first signs of gum disease, known as gingivitis, is gums that bleed easily during brushing or flossing. Healthy gums should not bleed from routine dental hygiene.
  • Swollen or red gums – Gums that are swollen, red, or tender can indicate inflammation, a key sign of gum disease.
  • Receding gums – If it looks like the gums are pulling away from the teeth, making the teeth appear longer, it's a sign of progressing gum disease.
  • Persistent bad breath – Ongoing bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth can be a sign of gum disease, caused by the bacteria in the mouth.
  • Tooth sensitivity – Increased sensitivity to hot or cold foods can indicate tooth decay or exposed tooth roots due to gum recession.
  • Pain when chewing – Pain or discomfort when chewing is often a sign of tooth decay or gum disease.
  • Loose teeth – Advanced gum disease can lead to the loosening of teeth, a severe sign that needs immediate attention.
  • Cavities – Small holes or pits in the teeth are often signs of tooth decay and should be addressed promptly.
  • Changes in bite or jaw alignment – If there are changes in the way teeth fit together when biting or in the fit of dentures, it could be due to gum disease.

Early detection and treatment of gum disease and tooth decay are essential in maintaining oral health and, by extension, heart health. Encouraging your employees to look out for these signs and keep up with regular dental check-ups can play a pivotal role in their overall well-being.

How oral health impacts heart health

When your employees notice a change in their oral health or discover a tooth infection, heart issues likely aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. However, they may be surprised to learn that researchers have found a possible link between poor oral health and certain heart conditions

How can bad teeth cause heart problems? Let's explore the relationship between gum health, bad teeth and heart disease.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects the force of blood against the walls of our arteries. Our arteries play a crucial role in distributing oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. But can a tooth infection cause high blood pressure? The short answer is: yes, it’s possible. Medical research indicates that untreated dental issues, particularly those leading to tooth loss, may be linked to increased blood pressure.


Endocarditis involves inflammation of the heart's inner lining, usually caused by an infection. While developing a heart infection from the teeth is rare, poor oral hygiene may allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream through cuts in the gums. Then, it’s possible that bacteria could reach the heart and contribute to conditions like endocarditis.


Atherosclerosis is characterized by plaque buildup in the arteries, leading them to narrow and become less flexible. Surprisingly, periodontal health might be partially responsible for this condition. Research has found periodontal pathogens in the plaques that could contribute to atherosclerosis.

Stroke and heart attack

Both stroke and heart attack involve disruptions in blood flow to the brain and heart, respectively. Gum inflammation and bleeding may cause changes in blood flow and oxygen delivery, which might contribute to an increased risk of stroke. In some cases, there may be a link between tooth pain and heart attacks due to the location of the vagus nerve in the jaw.

Coronary artery disease (CAD)

Research suggests a connection between poor oral health and an increased risk of coronary artery disease, as demonstrated by the relationship between periodontal disease and biomarkers of CAD. This link is thought to be due to bacteria from inflamed gums and periodontal diseases entering the bloodstream, which could cause inflammation in the blood vessels and heart.

Ongoing research in the field of oral and cardiovascular health continues to shed new light on these complex connections. However, with each new study, we gain a more complete understanding of how preventive dental care can support a healthy heart.

Preventive care is key

Maintaining good oral hygiene is emerging as a key factor in preventing cardiovascular diseases. If your team members are looking to get heart-healthy, and especially if they have an existing condition, these simple steps will support their well-being:

  • Brush and floss regularly. Brushing for at least two minutes twice a day and flossing once a day can help keep both the mouth and the heart healthy.
  • Keep up with regular dental exams and cleanings. Delta Dental plans include diagnostic and preventive care, like cleanings and exams, at little to no cost. Dental cleanings are essential to maintain oral health, and with regular exams, the dentist can catch problems such as gingivitis and gum disease early before they develop into more serious conditions.
  • Avoid cigarettes and other tobacco products. These products can destroy gums, and they are proven to increase the chance of heart disease. This includes products that are often considered less harmful, such as vapes and smokeless tobacco products.
  • Drink plenty of water. Proper hydration helps flush out bacteria and support saliva production, which contributes to optimal oral hygiene.
  • Eat a balanced diet. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains not only promotes good oral health by reducing the risk of cavities and gum disease but also benefits heart health and may lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • Use a therapeutic mouthwash. Besides brushing and flossing, using a therapeutic mouthwash can reduce plaque and prevent or reduce gingivitis. This step adds an extra layer of protection for oral health and, as a result, heart health.
  • Limit alcohol consumption. Excessive alcohol can negatively impact oral health by drying out the mouth and altering the balance of bacteria, which may lead to gum disease.
  • Chew sugar-free gum. Chewing sugar-free gum, especially after meals, can help with saliva production, which naturally cleanses the mouth and helps neutralize the acids produced by dental plaque. This simple habit may contribute to healthier teeth and gums.
  • Replace toothbrush regularly. Recommend that your employees replace their toothbrushes every three to four months or sooner if the bristles are frayed. A worn toothbrush won’t do a good job of cleaning teeth and may compromise oral health.

By incorporating these tips, your team can take proactive steps toward maintaining their oral health while reducing the risk of gum disease, tooth decay and heart disease.

Ways to keep your employees informed

Your employees are likely not aware of the essential connection between poor oral health, bad teeth and heart disease. Many of them may not realize they have gum disease because the condition is often painless. Oftentimes, people don’t know their gums are in poor health until they’ve lost or are losing a tooth.

Delta Dental has a wealth of resources to educate your employees during American Heart Month and beyond. You can:

How your Delta Dental coverage can support employees’ gum health

Routine dental checkups and cleanings, covered by all Delta Dental plans as diagnostic and preventive services, can help protect heart health by maintaining oral health and monitoring for gum disease.

Looking to improve your support for employees with or at risk of heart disease? SmileWay® Wellness Benefits as part of your employees’ plans offers additional coverage for gum treatment for those diagnosed with heart disease. Talk to your Account Manager about how your dental plan can improve employee health and reduce long-term costs.