If the eyes are the windows to our soul, than our teeth and gums could be the window to our physical health. Over the last fifteen years or so, researchers and scientists have gathered growing evidence that people who suffer from chronic or severe gum disease may be at greater risk for coronary heart disease. But while the data grows, studies have yet to specifically prove that gum disease or periodontal disease directly causes heart disease or if by controlling gingivitis we can prevent heart attacks.
Researchers from Taiwan looked at the dental records of over 100,000 adults listed in their national health insurance database. Of the 100,000 insurers, half had their teeth scaled, while the other half had no such procedure. Those insurers who had at least one cleaning by a dentist or hygienist within their lifetime were found to have a 24 percent lower risk of heart disease and a 13 percent lower risk of stroke than those insurers who had never had their teeth cleaned.
According to Dr. Zu-Yin Chen, a member of the Taipei Veterans General Hospital’s division of cardiology and one of the study’s authors, researchers understood that poor dental health contributed to heart attack and stroke, but did not realize what effect tooth scaling would have on other areas of the body, especially in subjects that did not have dental problems. The study’s research suggests that lowering inflammation was behind the association between the dental cleaning and the lower percentages of coronary heart disease. The Taiwan researchers point to prior research which indicates that teeth scaling reduces inflammation-causing bacteria, while improving blood vessel function.
While it is an interesting association, the research did have some limitations. For instance, although none of the subjects had a history of heart attack or stroke, the researchers were unable to adjust their data for key risk factors such as race, weight or smoking.
According to Dr. Myerburg, a professor in the Cardiovascular Division at the University at the Miami Miller School of Medicine, there could be a direct association, where inflamed gums contribute directly to inflammation of the heart. There may also be an indirect association: If the subjects happened to be compulsive about good oral and dental health, they’re probably diligent about other aspects of their physical health, such as eating right, exercising, and not participating in risky behavior like drinking or smoking.
The next step for the researchers would be to control for other factors like weight, diet, exercise and smoking, and see how that affect results. Regardless, scientists and experts agree that it’s better to be safe than sorry. Routine dental checkups and cleanings should be a part of everyone’s preventive health routine. It may save your life.
That’s all for today! Until next time,
Dr. Mark W Langberg, DDS, MAGD
26206 West 12 Mile Road, Suite 303
Southfield, MI 48034