How good oral health impacts cardiovascular health and helps manage blood sugar among diabetics

By Dr. Leo Gerald R. De Castro, DMD

MIND YOUR MOUTH Oral care is directly linked to cardiovascular health, which means dental hygiene is more important than we think

Self-care is all about taking time to do things that help us live well and improve both our physical and mental health. These practices help us manage stress, increase energy, and even lower the risk of illness. With its significant impact on our overall health and wellbeing, oral healthcare is an important aspect of one’s self-care routine.

While many people understand the connection between oral health and overall health, there is more that can be done to strengthen oral healthcare routines for more people to experience the benefits good oral health can bring.

In a survey conducted by GSK Consumer Healthcare and IPSOS among European and Southeast Asian countries on oral healthcare habits, it was revealed that only 42 percent of Filipinos surveyed strongly agree that good oral healthcare can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, and only 41 percent believe that oral healthcare has a positive impact on controlling blood sugar levels and managing diabetes.

At a Glance: Heart disease and diabetes in the Philippines

According To the Department of Health (DOH), cardiovascular diseases and complications associated with diabetes have consistently ranked among the leading causes of mortality in the country. In terms of the presence of cardiovascular disease in the country, the World Health Organization (WHO) lists the Philippines among countries in Southeast Asia with the highest number of deaths due to cardiovascular disease. In terms of risk factors, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, tobacco use, and excessive air pollution all increase the propensity for the illness to significantly affect or ultimately, take the lives of Filipinos.

Diabetes, on the other hand, comes with its own share of complications. As of May 2020, around 3.9 million Filipinos living with diabetes. While the condition itself occurs when the human body either produces an insufficient amount of insulin, or inefficiently uses the insulin it produces, the health risks people with diabetes can develop are serious—with eye problems, kidney disease, stroke, and heart disease to name a few. While diabetes varies by type, other factors such as weight, family history, and physical inactivity can potentially increase a person’s risk of catching the disease.

Simple oral care practices and lifestyle changes can help minimize health complications brought on by life-changing conditions.

Links between these conditions and environmental factors, family history, and lifestyle choices are all well-documented. There also exists, however, an often-overlooked link between these diseases and the condition of one’s oral health.

The connection between oral health, heart disease, and diabetes

Great oral hygiene not only protects teeth and boosts confidence, but also plays a role in avoiding serious health issues. The build-up of plaque and bacteria around the teeth can make gums prone to infection—potentially upping the risk of the onset of life-threatening illnesses.

For decades, researchers have tried to determine the link between gum disease and cardiovascular health. Findings show that people with gum disease have two to three times the risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or any serious cardiovascular event. This is due to gum diseases potentially increasing the body’s burden of inflammation. Plaque can also break off the walls of blood vessels, which can travel to the heart or brain—possibly triggering a cardiovascular event.

For those living with diabetes, the condition can change the body’s blood vessels—thickening them and reducing the flow of nutrients, and removal of wastes from body tissues. Reduced blood flow can weaken the gums, upping their risk for infection. As infections put stress on the body, the body responds by increasing hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline working against the effects of insulin, resulting in high blood sugar levels.  

If blood sugar is poorly controlled, oral health problems are more likely to develop. Uncontrolled diabetes weakens white blood cells, the body’s main defense against bacterial infections that can occur in the mouth. As studies show that 22 percent of people diagnosed with diabetes will also get gum disease, while gum disease is common and treatable, the possible health problems it could lead to are serious if left untreated. That makes it imperative to focus on improving one’s oral health to help manage complications brought on by diabetes.

What we can do to maintain optimum oral health

To help minimize the risk of getting afflicted by cardiovascular diseases and for those with diabetes to help manage their conditions, there are many oral health practices we can do at home to protect our teeth and gums from gum disease and the serious health complications it could bring. Brushing teeth after every meal, flossing daily, and using mouthwash can help maintain gum health. These measures should be combined with lifestyle choices such as watching the intake of sugar-rich food and drinks, making the decision to stop smoking, and scheduling trips to the dentist for check-ups and cleanings.

As a person’s health should always be looked at through a holistic lens, findings on the local sentiments toward oral health and its connection to heart disease and diabetes are encouraging signs. The fight continues to create awareness of oral health as a possible preventive measure against serious diseases. With the high rate of heart disease in the country, and with many Filipinos living with diabetes, being proactive in mitigating risks and managing conditions is a must for ourselves and our loved ones to enjoy healthier lives for longer.

By adapting these simple oral healthcare practices to our own self-care routines at home, a little more time devoted to maintaining our oral health can go a long way toward positively impacting our overall health in the long run.

The author is a managing partner at the Asian Centre for Dental Specialties

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Source: Manila Bulletin (