Fight heart disease at the bathroom sink

They say the pen is mightier than the sword. But when it comes to fighting heart disease, it looks like a toothbrush might actually trump them both.

Get this: Researchers recruited more than 160,000 subjects, all between the ages of 40 and 79, from the Korean National Health Insurance system. The goal was to examine the link between oral hygiene and two major cardiovascular killers: atrial fibrillation (the fancy term for irregular heartbeat) and heart failure.

All subjects received a routine medical examination between 2003 and 2004. So researchers had data on their height, weight, lab work, medical history, and lifestyle habits—including their oral hygiene routine.

And with over more than a decade of follow-up, they linked three or more tooth brushings a day to a 10 percent lower risk of atrial fibrillation—and a 12 percent lower risk of heart failure.

Needless to say, these aren’t small reductions. And yes, they were independent of a whole host of other factors—from age, sex, and socioeconomic status, to exercise habits, body mass index (BMI), and comorbid conditions like high blood pressure.

Of course, this is an observational study. Which means it can’t prove that tooth brushing directly reduces heart risk. But there’s certainly a good case to be made for that conclusion.

Not to mention, this is far from the first study to link oral health with cardiovascular health—gum disease has well-known links to both heart disease and diabetes, in particular. (And since inflammation is the common thread that runs through all disease, it’s hardly a surprise.)

But I must say, even I’m impressed by the difference a little extra dental hygiene made…especially since the only thing you have to lose in following suit is a case of bad breath.

The bottom line? Your dentist might be satisfied with two brushes a day. But as a doctor, I recommend more. So keep your toothbrush and non-fluoride toothpaste handy…and brush after eating (or as often as you can)—at least three times a day.

Reference:

  1. Chang Y, et al. “Improved oral hygiene care is associated with decreased risk of occurrence for atrial fibrillation and heart failure: A nationwide population-based cohort study.” Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2019 Dec 1:2047487319886018.

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