This Common Bathroom Habit May Spike Your Heart Attack Risk, Study Says

Doing this activity daily can cause serious health problems.

Most of us probably have morning and bedtime rituals for maintaining good hygiene. And while those bathroom habits vary from person to person, taking care of our teeth is a common priority. Besides preventing bad breath, tooth decay, and gum disease, practicing good oral health has been linked with a lower risk of dementia and heart disease. However, a new study warns that one common practice you might think is good for your teeth can actually spike your heart attack risk. Read on to find out which habit you may want to cut from your routine.

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Good health starts in your mouth.

Young woman looking inside her mouth

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that over 40 percent of U.S. adults have experienced mouth pain and discomfort within the last year, and more than 80 percent of Americans will have had at least one cavity by age 34. This is concerning, since according to a Feb. 2022 study published in Healthcare, oral health is fundamental to your overall health, social interactions, and quality of life.

Taking proper care of your teeth and gums is critical for preventing common oral diseases, such as dental caries (cavities), periodontal disease (advanced gingivitis), and oral cancer. Educating yourself on proper hygiene practices can protect you against infection and improve your overall health, including reducing your heart attack risk.

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Doing this after brushing your teeth can elevate your heart attack risk.

Close-up image of a man brushing the teeth in the apartment
Dragon Images / Shutterstock

You can't deny how refreshing it feels to brush, floss, and then give your mouth a thorough rinse with mouthwash. But, surprisingly, using certain antiseptic mouthwashes may do more harm than good. According to a study published in the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine, swishing the wrong type of mouthwash is terrible for your oral hygiene. In addition, it can raise your blood pressure, increasing your heart attack and stroke risk.

The study compared blood pressure levels in 19 healthy participants who started using antiseptic mouthwash twice daily. The researchers found that blood pressure increased by 2 to 3.5 units (mmHg) within 24 hours. To give context, every two-point rise in blood pressure increases your risk of dying from heart disease by seven percent, and from stroke by 10 percent.

Kami Hoss, DDS, co-founder of The Super Dentists and author of If Your Mouth Could Talk, tells Best Life, "Most over-the-counter antiseptic mouthwashes are extremely acidic and can be dangerous for your health. Many contain potentially harmful ingredients, including artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, and antimicrobial ingredients that can decimate your oral microbiome."

Mouthwash throws off your mouth's natural balance of bacteria.

Oral hygiene, use of mouthwash for the health of teeth and gums. Fresh breath. Teeth care. Treatment of dental problems / Shutterstock

Using a mouthwash with a potent antiseptic kills off bacteria in your mouth—including "good" bacteria that allows blood vessels to relax. This can elevate your blood pressure. Amrita Ahluwalia, BSc, a professor of vascular pharmacology and one of the study's lead authors, said in a statement, "Killing off all these bugs each day is a disaster, when small rises in blood pressure significantly impact morbidity and mortality from heart disease and stroke."

Bacteria are commonly considered detrimental to good health, but this is a myth, since not all living organisms in your mouth are bad for you. For example, some oral microbes help produce nitric oxide, a beneficial free radical that helps dilate blood vessels, improves blood flow, regulates blood pressure, and protects heart health.

"Antiseptic mouthwash can indiscriminately decimate the oral bacteria, reduce the nitric oxide, increase blood pressure, and ultimately increase your risk of heart attack and stroke," says Hoss.

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Here's how to use mouthwash and still protect your heart health.

Woman in silk nightwear wearing red robe rinsing mouth with mouthwash
Emily frost / Shutterstock

While regularly cleansing your mouth with an antiseptic mouthwash can disrupt your oral microbiome, using an alkaline mouthwash at the right time helps maintain your mouth's microbial balance. Hoss advises, "Avoid antiseptic mouthwashes or products with alcohol or antibacterial ingredients such as cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC). Instead, shop for a mouthwash containing prebiotics that feeds good microbes while selectively reducing the bad ones. Some prebiotics or ingredients that have a prebiotic effect are inulin, xylitol, and erythritol."

For optimal oral hygiene and heart health, start your day by rinsing your mouth with an alkaline mouthwash product, flossing, using a tongue scraper, then brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush. Repeat this process in reverse before going to bed.

Adam Meyer
Adam is a health writer, certified holistic nutritionist, and 100% plant-based athlete. Read more