For many years, the link between gum disease and heart disease was controversial. Now, that controversy is largely resolved. Most doctors and dentists agree that gum disease is associated with, and likely causes, increased risk of heart problems.
But now we have to ask: can we use this information to help people avoid heart disease? The answer, according to a new very large study, seems to be yes. In this study, brushing your teeth and making regular dental visits was associated with reduced heart risks.
A Large Population-Based Study
For this study, researchers in Korea looked at 161,286 subjects who were screened by their National Health Insurance System. The selected patients were chosen because of the completeness of their data.
Researchers followed the patients for a median of 10.5 years, and in that time, they recorded 4911 cases of atrial fibrillation and 7971 cases of heart failure, representing 3.0% and 4.9% of the population, respectively. To determine whether heart risk was linked to oral hygiene, they first corrected for a number of risk factors, including:
- Socioeconomic status
- Regular exercise
- Alcohol consumption
- Current smoking
- Kidney disease
- History of cancer
- Systolic blood pressure
- Blood and urine test results
After correcting for this wide range of factors, they found that brushing teeth three or more times a day reduced the risk of atrial fibrillation by about 10% and reduced the risk of heart failure by about 12%. Professional dental cleanings reduced the risk of heart failure by about 7%.
On the other hand, missing 22 or more teeth increased the risk of heart failure by about 32%! Previous studies have also linked tooth loss with early death.
This study has many things to recommend it. The large population size and the length of the follow up speak well for the validity of its conclusions. However, sheer number of correction factors used could be a problem. While these are all risk factors for the heart problems being studied, if the correction factors are off, it could skew the results of what is a relatively small effect.
Regular Dental Care Reduces Stroke Risk
On the other hand, this is not the first time researchers have shown that regular dental care can improve cardiovascular health. A powerful study from last year showed that gum disease was linked to higher stroke risk. As gum disease worsened, so did the stroke risk, with the most severe gum disease increasing stroke risk fivefold!
On the other hand, this study also showed that people who went to see the dentist regularly had a 23% lower stroke risk than those that only went to see their dentist if they had a problem.
Combining these two studies shows that taking care of your oral health is a powerful tool for improving your heart health.
Protect Your Teeth–and Your Heart–in Irvine
If you are looking for ways to protect yourself from heart attack, and stroke, it’s a good idea to start with improving your oral care. It’s a good idea to make sure you’re brushing according to recommendations. (Remember: if you brush more than twice a day, only use toothpaste twice to protect teeth from abrasion.)