Oral Health Matters

28th February 2011

New research has highlighted the importance of oral hygiene, suggesting that people who fail to brush their teeth twice a day run a higher risk of developing heart disease.

The Scottish study involving more than 11,000 adults supports previous research, which linked gum disease with heart problems. However the researchers did say that more work is needed to confirm if poor oral health directly causes heart disease rather than being a marker of risk.

Poor oral hygiene leading to gum disease creates an inflammatory response from the body and it is this inflammatory response which has already been linked to arterial disease, that may be the link between the mouth and the heart.

This is the first research investigating a possible link between the frequency of teeth brushing and the risk of developing heart disease.

The results of this study were published in the British Medical Journal and included lifestyle factors such as smoking, physical activity and oral health routines.

Participants were also asked how often they visited the dentist and how often they brushed their teeth. Medical history and family history of heart disease, blood pressure and blood profile information was then compared. Overall, six out of 10 people said they visited the dentist every six months and seven out 10 reported brushing their teeth twice a day. During the eight years of the study there were 555 “cardiovascular events” such as heart attacks, 170 of which were fatal.

Taking into account factors that affect heart disease risk, such as social class, obesity, smoking and family history, the researchers found those with the worst oral hygiene had a 70% increased chance of developing the condition compared with those who brush their teeth twice a day. Those with poor oral hygiene also tested positive in blood samples for proteins which are suggestive of inflammation.

Study leader Professor Richard Watt, from University College London, said future studies will be needed to confirm whether the link between oral health behaviour and cardiovascular disease “is in fact causal or merely a risk marker”.

Judy O\’Sullivan, senior cardiac nurse at British Heart Foundation, said: “If you don\’t brush your teeth, your mouth can become infected with bacteria which can cause inflammation. However, it is complicated by the fact that poor oral hygiene is often associated with other well known risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking and poor diet.”

She added: “Good personal hygiene is a basic element of a healthy lifestyle.

“But if you want to help your heart, you should eat a balanced diet, avoid smoking and take part in regular physical activity.”

Facts and figures

  1. 96% of people see a smile as very important to someone’s overall appearance (Academy of General Dentistry).
  2. About 5 million people each year visit their dentist with toothache.
  3. 19 out of 20 people suffer gum disease at some point in their life, making it the most common disease in the world.
  4. Most adults change their toothbrush once a year. It is recommended that a toothbrush should be replaced 4 times a year.
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