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Plaque on Your Teeth Can Create Gum Disease, Plaque in Your Arteries Can Kill You | Reader's Digest
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Plaque on Your Teeth Can Create Gum Disease, Plaque in Your Arteries Can Kill You

While dental plaque is bad enough, plaque in the arteries can lead to serious problems or kill you.

Dental plaque is very different from plaque in the arteries

When people think of ‘plaque’, they often think of the soft, sticky substance that builds up on teeth which can cause cavities and gum disease.[i] However, there is another kind of plaque found in the arteries, which is made up of fat, cholesterol and other substances found in the blood.[ii]

While dental plaque is bad enough, plaque in the arteries can lead to serious problems or kill you.[iii]

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Plaque in the arteries accumulates over time and is called atherosclerosis, more commonly referred to as heart disease.[iii] Arteries are the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to your heart and other parts of your body, including the brain. Over time, plaque in the arteries hardens and narrows your arteries. Plaque can also break free and travel to the brain where it can block blood flow and cause a stroke. Plaque can also cause a heart attack or other adverse and potentially debilitating cardiovascular events, even death.[ii]

The cause of atherosclerosis cannot be linked to any one factor, such as plaque. However, certain conditions or behaviors can increase your risk of the disease in addition to the buildup of plaque in your arteries. These conditions or behaviors are also called risk factors for cardiovascular disease.[iii]

You can control some of these risk factors and help reduce your risk of disease by increasing physical activity, eating healthier foods, or avoiding smoking.[iv] Your doctor might prescribe various medications to lower fats in your blood stream and reduce cholesterol levels.[iii] Cholesterol-lowering medications alone, however, will not eliminate all risk of cardiovascular disease. Even statins, a type of medication that is effective at lowering  LDL-cholesterol levels and reducing relative cardiovascular risk by approximately 25-to-35 percent, is not able to reduce all cardiovascular risk.[v]

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In addition to cholesterol, there are other types of fat, like triglycerides, that have been associated with plaque buildup.[v] Triglyceride levels are also thought to be markers of cardiovascular disease risk.[vi] There are other kinds of cardiovascular-risk lowering medications available that may address risk factors beyond high cholesterol. It’s important to consult with your physician on the best ways for you to minimize plaque buildup to protect your heart and to improve your health.

As of 2016, approximately 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. have one or more types of cardiovascular disease[vii] and nearly half of all Americans (47%) have at least one of the three key risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking.[viii]

So, in addition to taking care of your teeth and gums, be sure to take preventative action to address plaque in your arteries before it harms you. This risk should be addressed whether or not you had a prior heart attack or other form of a prior adverse cardiovascular event.

[i] Stanborough RJ. Medically reviewed by Frank C. “What Is Dental Plaque?” Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/dental-and-oral-health/plaque

[ii] “How High Blood Pressure Can Lead to a Heart Attack.” American Heart Association, www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/health-threats-from-high-blood-pressure/how-high-blood-pressure-can-lead-to-a-heart-attack

[iii] “Atherosclerosis.” National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/atherosclerosis

[iv] “Preventing Heart Disease: Healthy Living Habits.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/medical_conditions.htm

[v] Ganda OP, Bhatt DL, Mason RP, Miller M, Boden WE. Unmet need for adjunctive dyslipidemia therapy in hypertriglyceridemia management. J Am Coll Cardiol 2018;72:330-43.

[vi] Toth PP et al. J Am Heart Assoc. 2018;7(15):e008740.

[vii] Mozaffarian D, Benjamin EJ, Go AS, et al. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics-2016 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2016;133:e38-e360.

[viii] Fryar CD, Chen T, Li X. Prevalence of Uncontrolled Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease: United States, 1999–2010. NCHS Data Brief, No. 103. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2012.