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CAN BRUSHING YOUR TEETH REDUCE THE RISK OF DEVELOPING HEART DISEASE?

Posted May 29 2010 7:22am

A new study published in the British Medical Journal looked at whether our teeth brushing habits are linked to the incidence of heart disease.

Over the past twenty years or so there has been an increasing interest in the possibility of there being a relationship between gum disease & heart disease. Experts don’t fully understand the link between the two, but it is widely believed that inflammation in the mouth & gums could be connected to the build up of clogged arteries. Infections are a major cause of inflammation & it is thought that the risk of heart disease could be increased by having even mild infections.

Poor oral hygiene is the major cause of chronic mouth infections, in particular periodontal disease. Gum disease is caused by plaque, a film of bacteria which forms on the teeth & gums every day. Some of these bacteria are completely harmless, but others are responsible for gum disease. The only way to prevent, as well as treat gum disease is to remove the plaque every day by brushing your teeth.

The study in question looked at the data on almost twelve thousand male & female participants with an average age of fifty over a period of approximately eight years. The volunteers were asked how often they brushed their teeth & about frequency of visits to a dentist. Hospital records were later used to see which participants went on to develop heart problems. Because other factors can contribute to the development of heart disease, the researchers took account of as many of these as possible. In order to do this people were asked about things such as diet, whether there was a family history of heart problems, if they smoked & their levels of physical activity. Blood samples, blood pressure, & a medical history were also taken from consenting participants by a nurse visiting on a separate occasion.

Results of the study showed that people who brushed their teeth less often were found to have higher levels of some chemicals in their bodies - C reactive protein & fibrinogen – which are indicative of inflammation in the body. They were also more likely to get heart problems. Participants who reported less frequent tooth brushing (never or rarely brushing) had a 70% increased risk of a cardiovascular disease compared with participants who brushed their teeth twice a day.

Professor Richard Watt, from University College London, who led the study, concluded by saying, “Our results confirmed and further strengthened the suggested association between oral hygiene and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, inflammatory markers were significantly associated with poor oral health behaviour. Future experimental studies will be needed to confirm whether the observed association between oral health behaviour and cardiovascular disease is in fact causal or merely a risk marker. Nevertheless, use of a simple one item measure of self reported tooth brushing could be a useful and cost effective marker of future health risk in large scale population studies. Given the high prevalence of oral infections in the population, doctors should be alert to the possible oral source of an increased inflammatory burden.”



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