Brush Your Teeth, Protect Your Heart

Kids grow up hearing “brush your teeth” repeated over and over by mom, dad, the dentist and lots of other folks. While I never understood why the dentist was trying to put himself out of work, it’s perfectly understandable why mom and dad would say it. Dental work is expensive!

Now, new science is backing the “brush your teeth” idea. The European Society of Cardiology says so, backed by a study recently published in their journal the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. The study says that frequently brushing your teeth will help lower your risk of atrial fibrillation and heart failure. Brush your teeth, indeed!

There are previously-established and fairly strong connections between poor oral hygiene and higher bacteria levels in the blood. This leads to inflammation in the body. Since inflammation increases the risk of atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeat and heart failure, keeping bacteria levels at bay in the blood is a good thing. This study took a look at the correlation between oral hygiene, atrial fibrillation and heart failure.

161,268 participants from the Korean National Health Insurance System took part in the retrospective cohort study. They were all aged 40 to 79 and had no history of heart failure or atrial fibrillation. During routine medical examinations done between 2003 and 2004, information on height, weight, illnesses, lifestyle, oral health, oral hygiene behaviors and laboratory tests was collected from the participants.

A median follow-up exam was performed on each participant 10 1/2 years later. At that time, 4,911 of them, or 3%, had developed atrial fibrillation, while 7,971, or 4.9%, had developed heart failure.

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The median follow-up data showed that those who brushed their teeth 3 or more times a day had a 10% lower risk of atrial fibrillation than those who did not. The decreased risk factor was 12% for heart failure among the three-a-day tooth brushers. Researchers factored a number of things when assessing risk reduction. These included sex, age, exercise frequency, alcohol consumption, socioeconomic status, body mass index and co-morbidities like hypertension.

Have you ever heard of the subgingival biofilm? Most people probably haven’t, but I’m betting your dentist knows what it is! Well, it seems possible that frequent tooth brushing cuts down on the bacteria levels in the subgingival biofilm, which is defined as the bacteria living in the space between the teeth and the gums. This would, by extension, prevent translocation of said bacteria to the bloodstream.

Senior author Dr. Tae-Jin Song of Ewha Womans University, Seoul, Korea noted the study’s limitations. Song admitted that the limitation of analysis to one country may limit the universality of the findings and that observational study does not prove causation. But he added: “We studied a large group over a long period, which adds strength to our findings.”

An accompanying editorial states: “It is certainly too early to recommend tooth brushing for the prevention of atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure.” It adds: “While the role of inflammation in the occurrence of cardiovascular disease is becoming more and more evident, intervention studies are needed to define strategies of public health importance.”

It turns out that mom and dad were right. Your dentist was right (even though he/she may have been talking themselves out of a job!) They were all right, since taking care of your teeth keeps them strong and healthy. Now, it seems, taking care of your teeth also helps keep your heart healthy!

Keep the faith and keep after it!

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Journal Reference – Yoonkyung Chang, Ho Geol Woo, Jin Park, Ji Sung Lee, Tae-Jin Song. Improved oral hygiene care is associated with decreased risk of occurrence for atrial fibrillation and heart failure: A nationwide population-based cohort study. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, 2019

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