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Heart Health

25 June 2020

How your tongue can show if you have a healthy heart

According to research, micro-organisms on the tongue can help diagnose heart failure.

  • While there is no definite data that links oral conditions and heart disease, your mouth may signal inflammation elsewhere in the body.
  • The coating on the tongue may play a vital role in diagnosing heart failure.
  • Researchers found a clear difference between the tongue microbiomes of healthy people and those who have chronic heart failure.

Oral health is not often mentioned in the same breath as heart health, but new research states that our tongues can hold vital clues to the state of our hearts.

According to a presentation on HFA Discoveries, a scientific platform of the European Society of Cardiology, micro-organisms on the tongue could play a role in diagnosing heart failure.

What should a normal tongue look like?

Study author Dr Tianhui Yuan from the No. 1 Hospital of Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine pointed out in the presentation that a normal tongue should be pale, red and somewhat moist with a pale white coating, but heart failure patients may have a redder tongue with a more yellow coating, especially towards the rear of the tongue.

As heart disease progresses, the changes in the tongue can become more apparent. This is because of a change in the microbiota of the tongue, which play a critical role in disease.

"Our study found that the composition, quantity and dominant bacteria of the tongue coating differ between heart failure patients and healthy people," she stated in a news release.

An important marker of health

Micro-organisms in the tongue are not associated only with heart health – previous research has also shown that the micro-organisms in the tongue coating can help identify those who have pancreatic cancer.

This led the study authors to believe that the microbiota on the tongue could be linked to other signs of inflammation and disease, since certain bacteria are associated with immunity, that could be linked to heart failure.

Tongue microbiomes were sampled by taking scrapings with stainless steel spoons from the tongues of 42 participants, both with and without chronic heart failure.

The researchers then found that those participants who had chronic heart failure had the same micro-organisms in their tongue coatings, while healthy people had similar micro-organisms. There was a distinct difference and no overlapping.

According to Dr Yuan, more research is needed, but tongue microbes could assist in the screening, diagnoses and monitoring of heart failure.

Your heart and your oral health

Proper oral hygiene is not only important for healthy teeth, but it may also protect you from heart disease in the long run. While there is no concrete evidence, studies in the past have shown a correlation between conditions such as gum disease and tooth loss, and heart disease as inflammation in your mouth can contribute to heart issues.

Poor dental hygiene may also increase your risk of a bacterial infection that may travel through the blood and affect your heart valves.

While you might not be able to prevent heart health completely, taking note of issues such as red or swollen gums, a change in the coating on your tongue, persistent bad breath, loose teeth and receding gums may help you prevent more inflammation in your body.

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Image credit: iStock