February 01, 2010

Go Red for Women

By Roberta Gottlieb, M.D.

Go Red for Women

February 5 is the day to wear red in support of the American Heart Association's "Go Red for Women" campaign to raise awareness of heart disease as the number one killer of American women (and men). So, as a physician and cardiac researcher, I am suggesting you put on red, and run right out and visit your... dentist.


Why am I suggesting you see your dentist? We already know that exercising, stopping smoking, lowering cholesterol, and eating a healthy diet are key elements to a healthy heart. Yet there are 8 million Americans with heart disease, and over half a million heart-related deaths each year. What more should we be doing?


If you regularly see a cardiologist, think about the last visit. Did she look in your mouth and discuss your oral care? Whoever thought a cardiologist would tell you to floss? They may not now, but that could change as we learn more about gum disease. Many cardiologists are unaware of the connection to heart disease, which is why the SDSU BioScience Center is launching a study of gum disease and heart disease in teens and young adults. (more about that next month).


Gum disease develops when bacterial colonies (plaque) multiply on teeth in the space below the gum line, very much like bridge pilings crusted with barnacles below the water line. Gum disease is slow and can lead to loss of teeth over decades, but before that, there are other consequences. Like barnacles, those bacteria can break loose, and the body's response wreaks havoc with blood vessels. So to take care of your mouth--and your heart--you should brush your teeth, floss daily, and see your dentist regularly to scrape off those barnacles.


Many health insurance programs do not include preventive dental care. Yet the mouth is the portal to the body and is a key defense against infection. Some studies have shown that providing dental care is cost effective because it decreases the risk of very expensive problems like heart attack, stroke, and diabetes in older patients. With more research, we will know a lot more about the connection between a healthy mouth and a healthy heart in the coming years.


So go see your dentist, and on February 5, put on that red dress, and Smile.