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May 08, 2019

Taking Care of Your Teeth Benefits Heart Health

Frequent tooth brushing and dental visits could reduce risk for heart disease, finds study of a large Korean registry.

Taking care of your teeth could help reduce risk for heart disease—the leading killer of men and women in the United States. Findings were recently published in the European Heart Journal and suggest that regular brushing and dental visits reduce risk for heart disease by up to 14%.

Using data from a national health registry in Korea, this study looked at the link between oral health and cardiovascular risk. The goal was to confirm whether gum disease is associated with increased risk for heart disease, as previous studies suggest. Researchers also explored whether good oral hygiene helps reduce that risk, which remains unknown.

The recent analysis included 247,696 healthy Korean adults in a national registry, all of whom underwent an oral health screening and were free of heart disease at the start of the study. Participants were 40 years old or older and followed for roughly ten years following their dental screening.

Over the study period, there were nearly 15,000 cases of heart attack, stroke, heart failure and heart-related death. Similar to previous studies, analysis confirmed that risk for heart events was higher in adults with gum disease, as well as those with cavities and missing teeth.

However, this study also found that brushing one extra time a day reduced cardiovascular risk by 9%. Visiting the dentist for a teeth cleaning at least once a year was also associated with 14% lower risk for heart events compared to adults who never went to the dentist.

Based on self-reported data, nearly half of participants brushed their teeth twice a day. The remaining 40% brushed three times or more a day and 15% brushed no more than once a day. Roughly one in four participants had at least one professional teeth cleaning each year and 20–30% had gum disease, cavities or tooth loss.

Findings are promising, as they suggest that we can protect heart health with good dental hygiene. We can’t control all risk factors for heart disease, such as age and family history. However, findings suggest that we have the power to change our cardiovascular risk with healthy lifestyle choices like brushing our teeth.

Authors note that the link between oral and heart health could be due to the chronic inflammation associated with both conditions. Gum disease and other dental issues cause inflammation in the mouth, which could trigger or worsen inflammation in the arteries. It’s also possible that inflammation from heart disease could make individuals more vulnerable to conditions like gum disease.

Additional research is needed to understand this disease pathway. However, findings add to a growing body of evidence linking gum disease to increased heart risks.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How does inflammation increase cardiovascular risk?

  • The exact role that inflammation plays in cardiovascular health remains unclear. However, experts suggest that the build-up of plaque in the arteries may cause inflammation, and as the body continually attacks these fatty deposits, it can wear the body down and/or cause blood clots—one of the most common causes of heart attack and stroke.
  • What is the connection between gum disease and heart disease?
  • It’s not completely clear. Scientists don’t know whether gum disease actually causes cardiovascular disease. It’s possible that something else is causing both problems. One theory is that bacteria from diseased gums invade the artery wall and cause inflammation to erupt there too. The bacteria may also provoke the body to release several chemicals that cause inflammation in the arteries.

Infographic: Heart Attack

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