People that don’t brush their teeth regularly are putting their heart health at risk. According to a Scottish population study published in the British Medical Journal, poor dental hygiene can increase your risk of heart attack by up to 70%. Although previous links have been drawn between gum disease and cardiovascular problems, this is the first time that frequency of teeth brushing has been studied as a risk factor for heart disease.
What Does the Study Show?
The study by the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London, took place over eight years and involved more than 11,000 adults. Data was collected about their oral hygiene including how often they brushed their teeth and how often they visited the dentist.
Their blood pressure and blood samples were taken, and information about their medical history and their family history of heart disease was recorded. Other cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking and obesity were also taken into account.
- 70% of the subjects in the study reported brushing their teeth twice a day
- 60% of the subjects in the study reported visiting their dentist every six months
Over the eight years of the study, there were 555 cardiovascular incidents such as heart attacks recorded. 170 of these were fatal.
The people in the group with the worst oral hygiene reported never or rarely brushing their teeth. They were 70% more likely to experience one of these cardiovascular incidents than the people that brushed their teeth twice a day.
What is the Link Between Oral Hygiene and Heart Disease?
When the teeth are not brushed regularly the mouth can quickly become infected with bacteria. These bacteria can cause inflammation which in turn leads to clogged arteries, a major contributor to heart attacks and cardiovascular disease.
When the blood samples of the people in the group that never or rarely brushed their teeth were analyzed, many of them tested positive for certain proteins that are suggestive of inflammation. These are C reactive proteins and fibrinogen. This finding seems to back up the link between poor oral health, inflammation, and heart disease.
Risk Factor or Risk Marker?
Further investigation into the link between oral hygiene and heart disease is necessary. Experts say the conclusions of the study are complicated by the fact that people who don’t brush their teeth regularly are also more likely to smoke or eat an unhealthy diet; both risk factors for heart disease.
Good oral hygiene is only one element of the healthy lifestyle needed to combat heart disease, and stopping smoking, eating well, and getting plenty of exercise are equally important.
Ten Tips for Good Oral Hygiene
Reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease with these ten tips on oral hygiene:
- Brush your teeth twice daily, morning and night
- Make sure you spend three minutes brushing your teeth
- Use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste (fluoride-free organic toothpaste is best)
- Use a small-headed toothbrush to reach the back of your mouth
- Don’t brush too hard as this may damage your gums
- Replace your toothbrush every two to three months
- If you use an electric toothbrush find one with a rotating oscillating action
- Floss daily to clean the gaps between teeth that a brush can’t reach
- Visit your dentist regularly, ideally every six months
- Cut down on sugary foods such as sweets, chocolate, and white bread, and reduce consumption of sugar-laden soft drinks.