A new study suggests that taking good care of the teeth and going for regular dentist visits could help to protect the heart from suffering a major event like a heart attack or stroke. According to the researchers involved in the study, regular dental visits could reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems by one third.
The research team, based at the University of California in Berkeley, analyzed data from almost 7,000 people between the ages of 44 and 88. All were enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study.
The study compared two groups of people: those who visited their dentist regularly over a two-year period and those who did not. Data from the Health and Retirement Study was collected and contained information about whether participants had visited their dentist and whether or not they had experienced angina, a stroke, congestive heart failure or a heart attack during the previous two years. Information regarding deaths which resulted from heart attacks and strokes were also included in the study data. Researchers accounted for other risk factors, such as high blood pressure and/or BMI and how much a person drank or smoked.
The research team found that more women than men benefitted from regular dental care in terms of heart risk factors. This finding was not unexpected, however, as previous studies have pointed to gender differences when it comes to poor oral health and heart disease risk factors.
This is the first study to show that regular visits to the dentist leads to fewer adverse heart events such as heart attacks and strokes in a causal way. This study carefully compared a control group (those who did not receive dental care) with those who did. It has been difficult to conduct long-term randomized trials linking lack of dental care to heart risk factors. It’s not really possible to randomize study participants to a group that would have to miss out on dental care completely for months or even years. Most people would inevitably go and get dental care at some point in the study, ruining the results.
The researchers noted that regular dental care likely has the most protective effect for the heart at the outset of cardiovascular disease, rather than when the disease is fully developed.
The researchers could not comment on what dental procedures exactly are responsible for the protective heart effects, but they suggest that cleaning and fluoride treatments are likely key components.
How often should you go to the dentist to protect both your teeth and your heart? Aim for two visits a year. If you wear dentures, take a few minutes every day to clean them. This will help to reduce the buildup of harmful bacteria and plaque.
Not everyone is motivated to go to the dentist regularly, but as an older adult, it’s definitely the best thing to do. Not only will your teeth and gums remain healthier as you age but your heart may also benefit. Take the time to floss every day and consider using an electric toothbrush which has been proven to do a better job cleaning the teeth.
Yang, S., “Women who get dental care have lower risk of heart disease, says study,” UC Berkeley News Center web site, Sept. 30, 2010; http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2010/09/30/dental/, last accessed Dec. 26, 2013.
Grogan, M., ‘Will taking care of my teeth help prevent heart disease?” Mayo Clinic web site; http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-disease-prevention/AN02102, last accessed Dec. 26, 2013.