After examining the teeth and the arteries of more than 500 people, the researchers discovered that those need of a root canal were nearly 3 times more likely to have acute coronary syndrome—a clogging of the heart’s arteries that can cause a heart attack—than patients with healthy teeth.
You need a root canal if you develop a root tip infection in the pulp, or the tissue in the center of your tooth. One of the most common causes of this is a deep decay, often due to a cavity that’s left untreated and worsens.
The bacteria from your tooth infection can spread to other areas of your body, says study author John Liljestrand, D.D.S.
That includes your heart: And if it’s already damaged—say, due to heart disease—that bacteria can spark a serious infection in your heart called endocarditis.
What’s more, your body reacts to the bacteria by ramping up system-wide inflammation to fight it off, says Dr. Liljestrand. And that’s a problem even for guys with no known heart problems.
Too much inflammation can lead to the development of plaque in the arteries and blood vessels, which can weaken or damage your heart.
This can create blood clots that lead to heart attack or stroke, according to the American Heart Association.
Root tip infections are pretty common—the American Association of Endodontists performs more than 15 million root canals every year. Guys of any age are at risk.
Problem is, lots of people don’t know they have one: Many times, there aren’t symptoms because the tooth is already “dead” and no longer has access to a blood supply—meaning it can no longer feel pain—so they’re usually only spotted by x-ray, says Dr. Liljestrand.
That makes your regular dentist appointment even more important. Your cleanings and examinations should be determined by your dentist, but for many people an exam once a year is usually enough, says Dr. Liljestrand.
Related: 6 Weird Tooth Pains, Explained!
This will allow your dentist to get a good look at your teeth’s health, which will help him determine how often you should receive x-rays. Usually, most guys get them once a year, says Dr. Liljestrand.
But it does vary depending on your medical and oral history.
If you’ve had many fillings and gum disease in the past, or smoke and chew tobacco, your dentist may recommend getting an x-ray done every six months during your checkup instead, according to the American Dental Association.
In between visits, keep your mouth healthy by brushing twice a day and cleaning between your teeth daily, says Dr. Liljestrand.
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This will cut your risk of developing cavities that, if left untreated, can spark your need for a root canal.