Picture by American Heart Association

Can looking after oral health also protect against strokes, diabetes and cancer?

Anyone who thought that the only connection between their heart and their mouth is the phrase “my heart was in my mouth” should think again; new research claims to have established another clear link between oral health and heart health.

This week’s meeting of the American Heart Association in Orlando, Florida will hear evidence from Taiwanese researchers that suggests that professional tooth scaling – cleaning and scraping – is associated with fewer heart attacks.

If true, the findings will provide another compelling reason why people should book a regular appointment so see a dental hygienist. Putney dental clinic Ethicare, like many modern dentists, has a hygienist who works with patients to formulate a tailored regimen.

The effect of regular professional hygiene treatment was examined by researchers at the Veterans General Hospital in Taipei, Taiwan who studied the oral and physical health of 100,000 participants over a seven-year period.

It was found that those who received annual tooth scaling at the dentist’s had a 24 per cent lower risk of suffering a heart attack than those who never booked a dental cleaning.

Why oral health and heart health may be connected

Commenting on the results, researcher Emily Zu-Yin Chen said: “Professional tooth scaling appears to reduce inflammation-causing bacterial growth that can lead to heart disease.”

Swedish research

The American Heart Association conference’s delegates will also hear about separate research conducted in Sweden which backs up the Taiwanese scientists’ findings.

Work undertaken by Anders Holmlund from Centre for Research and Development of the County Council of Gavleborg, found that:

• People with fewer than 21 teeth (healthy adults have 32) have a 69 per cent higher risk of heart attack

• People with a high incidence of gum infection are 50 per cent more vulnerable to heart attacks

Strokes

The two separate pieces of research also re-emphasised the widespread belief that flossing and brushing teeth can guard against the likelihood of having a stroke.

Dr Holmlund’s team found that study participants with the highest incidence of gum bleeding are 2.1 per cent more likely to have a stroke. The research from Taiwan suggests that an annual scaling at the dentist can cut the danger of suffering a stroke by 13 per cent.

It is estimated that about 150,000 people in Britain have a stroke each year; with over one in three of these stroke victims dying. A stroke is normally caused by a disturbance or interruption of the blood supply to the brain.

Why there might be a link between oral health and strokes

In March 2011, Dr Sharlin Ahmed of The Stroke Association said: “It is believed that oral bacteria can contribute to the furring up and narrowing of artery walls, which would result in a stroke. Oral bacteria could also attach to fatty deposits in the arteries, which can lead to a blood clot and could result in a stroke.”

Oral health and diabetes

According to diabetes.co.uk, it is estimated that people with diabetes can be “up to three times more likely to develop gum disease than people without diabetes”.

Diabetes, the website states, is “also more likely in people who don’t clean their teeth regularly or those who find it difficult to clean their teeth properly”.

Tooth loss and breast cancer

In February 2011, a study was published which suggested a link between tooth loss and breast cancer. Researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden examined 3,000 patients. They found that out of the 41 people who developed breast cancer, those who suffered from gum disease and loss of teeth were 11 times more likely to develop cancer.

Commenting on the study, the British Dental Health Foundation said: “The findings indicate another clear link between your general and oral health.”

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