Brush your teeth twice a day and remember to floss in order to protect your teeth, gums – and heart, according to new research from South Korea’s Ewha Womans University.
It has already been established by 2010 research by that lax oral health can result in gum bacteria escaping from the mouth and penetrating the bloodstream, increasing the risk of blood clots and heart attack.
But this research, published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, finds that tedious brushing and flossing can end up doing major double duty: if you stick to an oral hygiene routine religiously, it’s linked with lower risks of both atrial fibrillation (AFib) (an irregular heartbeat) and heart failure. It also causes inflammation.
The researchers at Ewha Woman’s University take this prior research one step further and posit that the inflammation be the culprit that’s creating the risk of an irregular heartbeat (AFib) and heart failure.
Seeking to prove or disprove their thesis, the researchers used already-collected data on 161,286 Koreans. Only enrollees between 40-79 years old with no history of AFib or heart failure were included in the research.
All of the insurance enrollees had endured an initial medical exam in 2003-2004, in which specific information was collected, like height, weight, prior illnesses, lifestyle, oral health, and oral hygiene habits.
Over the course of a median follow-up period of 10 and a half years, 3% (4,911) of the enrollees developed AFib and 4.9% (7,971) sustained a form of heart failure.
What was the difference?
The difference between developing AFib or heart failure, the researchers concluded, was brushing your teeth three times a day – the same simple advice your mother and your dentist always told you.
The study authors found that participants who brushed their teeth thrice daily were linked with a 10% reduced in risk of developing AFib, and a 12% lower risk of heart failure. (These findings stayed steady even while controlling for age, sex, wealth, weight, alcohol consumption, BMI, and how much they exercised.)
Therefore, researchers could make the association that frequently and consistently brushing one’s teeth is associated with lower risks of both atrial fibrillation (AFib) and heart failure.
Still, more research is needed
While the research team wasn’t able to say they’d conclusively solved the problem, definitively ascertain the cause of their findings, they were confident making the association that frequently and consistently brushing one’s teeth is associated with lower risks of both atrial fibrillation (AFib) and heart failure.
To explain it in detail, they believe that most likely regular teeth brushing reduces the amount of bacteria present in the pockets between the teeth and gums, therefore preventing oral bacteria from entering the bloodstream and causing inflammation – the very inflammation that they believe causes AFib and heart failure.
To strengthen their argument, it was a long, wide-ranging study.
“We studied a large group over a long period, which adds strength to our findings,” comments senior author Dr. Tae-Jin Song, in a release.
Still, researchers noted that further research was necessary, specifically to test on a most diverse population other than just Koreans.
And an accompanying editorial to the study walks it back, stating: “It is certainly too early to recommend toothbrushing 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.”
Still, up that brushing and flossing
But it seems safe to get some extra brushing and flossing in there for now. There are some things in life you really can’t avoid: death, taxes, and the dentist.