Poor teeth-brushing habits tied to higher heart risk

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Regularly brushing your teeth may be good for your heart.
Regularly brushing your teeth may be good for your heart.

Brushing your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes may lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases, a new study suggests.

Previous studies have found a link between heart disease and periodontal disease – a condition marked by gum infection, gum inflammation and tooth damage.

Observational study has limits

The new study, scheduled for presentation at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions meeting in Chicago, looked at whether a person's tooth-brushing habits were associated with their risk of having or dying from a heart attack, heart failure or stroke.

Researchers asked 682 people about their tooth-brushing behaviour. After adjusting for various factors, they found that those who said they brushed less than twice a day for less than two minutes had a three-fold increased heart risk, compared to those who said they brushed at least twice a day for at least two minutes.

Dr Shogo Matsui, the study's lead researcher, said the findings suggest "poor oral health, based on daily teeth-brushing behaviour, is associated with" poorer heart health. It's possible that longer tooth brushing might reduce this risk, but the new study was not designed to prove cause-and-effect, said Matsui, a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical and Health Sciences at Hiroshima University in Japan.

Dr Ann Bolger, a cardiologist and professor of medicine emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco, agreed that the observational study had limitations.

"It is possible that people who are very attentive to their dental health are also very attentive to other aspects of their health," said Bolger, who was not involved in the research.

Even so, Bolger said the science supports a potential connection between dental health and heart health. Gum disease is one of the diseases "where the body may be in a sort of continual state of inflammation, and this seems to be a very powerful predictor of cardiovascular disease," she said.

Low-risk, low-cost option

A separate study published last month in the journal Hypertension found that gum disease appears to worsen blood pressure and interferes with medications to treat hypertension.

Poor dental health also poses a risk to people with heart valve problems, Bolger said.

"I spend an inordinate amount of time talking to (heart valve patients) about their teeth because we know certain heart valve infections can be associated with poor oral health," she said.

This latest research "is a good reminder that the mouth is an important part of a person's entire health and simple, daily behaviours that improve health are incredibly important."

The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste.

"It's a low-risk, low-cost option that we know has other benefits even beyond the scope of what this study is trying to investigate," Bolger said. "There's no reason not to recommend someone do this."

Image credit: iStock

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