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Fitness Files: How do you mend a broken heart? Brush

Master of deceit, my dentist entered the examining room holding a big Zorcaine hypodermic.

“Ever hear of a ‘china schooner?’” Dr. L. asked.

Eyes averted from the needle, I searched my deficient historical database for something I should remember from world history class.

I shook my head, “no,” while Dr. L gently tugged my cheek and the needle approached.


“You know that our parents and grandparents had such bad dental care, they lost all their teeth,” Dr. L. continued.

“Uh huh,” I grunted, remembering my mom’s dentures.

Dr. L. went on, “In those days, dentures were made of china. At night, our parents would take a cup of water and float …"

“Oh, ‘ina ‘ooner!’” I managed through my gaping mouth. I hadn’t felt the shot.


Today, dental and medical care have come a long way from “china schooners.” It’s no surprise that flossing, using a rubber pick along the gumline and regular visits to your dentist and hygienist contribute to being long with your teeth even after you are “long in the tooth.”

But, heart health? Who’d a’ thunk it! WebMD calls the “humble toothbrush” a powerful weapon against heart attacks, strokes and other heart disease conditions.

Sally Cram, DDS, a spokeswoman for the American Dental Assn., says that gum disease in particular can be related to heart disease. Quoting WebMD’s 2005 article, “People with periodontal disease are twice as likely to have coronary artery disease.” In fact, gingivitis, cavities and missing teeth were as good at predicting heart disease as high cholesterol.

One theory for the relationship between heart and gum disease is that bacteria from the mouth sticks to fatty plaques in the bloodstream, directly contributing to blockages.

Another theory is that oral bacteria traveling through the body causes inflammation or swelling, which is the body’s natural response to infection. This could lead to narrowing of an artery or the risk of clots. According to WebMD, researchers are gathering data “that suggest more and more diseases including periodontal disease, heart disease, and arthritis are partially caused by the body’s own inflammatory response.”

Nobody’s saying the relationship between gum disease and heart disease will prove to be 100% causal. Saturated fats, lack of exercise and excess abdominal weight are well-established coronary risk factors.

But if we start flossing and using the gum-pick to break up plaque deposits at the gumline, we win anyway. Readers who already floss know that the squeaking-clean-flossed feeling is a reward in itself. Just skip a day or two. You feel those bugs partying on your gums and fly to the floss. Then there’s the glow with the A+ grade from your hygienist.

In spite of my regular flossing, I just visited Dr L. for a crown on that wisdom tooth. But, at 70, I still have wisdom teeth and no heart disease. I’ll keep flossing, keep running, keep eating my whole grains and keep visiting Dr. L. for tooth care and distraction.