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Brush your teeth for heart health

By Jane Hart, MD

Everyone knows to brush and floss to keep their smile sparkling, but it comes as a surprise to many that mouth health may also be important for your heart. A new study in the British Medical Journal found that the risk of having a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack went up 70% in people who brush their teeth less than twice a day.

Brush twice a day

“Periodontal” disease affects the tissues that surround teeth, such as gums. Poor oral hygiene has been shown to be a major cause of periodontal disease and prior studies have linked it to higher rates of cardiovascular disease. To further examine this link, researchers reviewed data from the Scottish Health Survey. The survey included reports from 11,869 men and women, average age 50, on a variety of health behaviors, such as frequency of tooth brushing. Survey participants were followed for cardiovascular events for an average of about eight years. A subset of people also had blood samples taken for a variety of health measures, which showed:

• People who reported never or rarely brushing their teeth had a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular events compared with people who brushed their teeth twice a day.

• People who never or rarely brushed their teeth were more likely than people who brushed their teeth twice a day to have increased markers of inflammation and heart disease (blood levels of C-reactive protein and fibrinogen).

The authors conclude that poor oral hygiene may increase the risk for cardiovascular disease but state that further research is needed to confirm the association.

Tips for dental health

• See a dentist. Regular visits help reduce the risk of cavities and periodontal disease. A dental hygienist removes hard to reach plaque and bacteria that affect the health of teeth and gums.

• Brush and floss every day. The American Dental Association recommends brushing teeth twice a day and flossing every day.

• Don’t smoke. Smoking and chewing tobacco are bad for teeth and gums and increase a person’s risk of oral and other cancers.

• Choose healthy snacks. Avoid sugary snacks as they increase the risk of cavities and gum disease. Eat a balanced diet and choose healthy snacks such as fruit, vegetables, or nuts.

(BMJ 2010;340:c2451)

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, websites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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