A recent study published in the International Journal of Cardiology sheds some light on dental procedures that can lower the risk of developing atrial fibrillation in older adults. Atrial fibrillation is a type of cardiac dysrhythmia where the atrium of the heart simply vibrates instead of doing a full contraction necessary to pump blood. Symptoms include fainting, chest pain, palpitations or congestive heart failure.
Atrial fibrillation (AF) increases a person’s risk of stroke depending upon other risk factors such as high blood pressure. The presence of AF can be easily confirmed with an EKG or electrocardiogram or clinically identified by taking someone’s pulse, and affects 2.7 million people in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Study at a Glance
Using data from Taiwan’s National Health Insurance Research Database (NHIRD), researchers propose that patients undergoing dental scaling once a year can reduce their risk for AF. For this study scientists used data collected from 28,909 subjects aged 60 years and older with no history of cardiac dysrhythmia. Subjects were classified into two groups: the exposed and the non-exposed. The exposed group had received dental scalings at least once a year from 1998 to 2000, while the non-exposed group received no such periodontal treatment for that same period. Researchers followed individuals in both groups for five years or upon the first occurrence of new-onset atrial fibrillation.
The researchers found that the group that had a yearly dental scaling had a lower occurrence rate of new, onset AF after adjustments for age, sex, and other existing conditions were considered. Subjects who received dental scaling twice a year or more over a three year period reduced their risk of AF even further. The authors of the study concluded that given the high prevalence of periodontal disease around the world, improved oral hygiene through regular dental scalings may be a simple yet effective way to reduce arterial inflammation and avoid AF.
For both scientists and researchers the quest continues to investigate whether the data presented is merely a correlation or if a causal relationship can be found. The American Heart Association has issued a statement that periodontal disease has not been definitely proven to cause nor prevent heart disease or stroke. Still, research has continually proven that the role of inflammation in periodontitis and heart disease suggests an association.
Even as more studies continue to provide in-depth information regarding the relationship between periodontal disease and heart disease, the direct effects of good oral hygiene cannot be refuted. A reduction in chronic gum disease will result in a reduction of bacteria and their related endotoxins entering the bloodstream, as well as a reduction in the circulating markers for inflammation, such as C Reactive Proteins. Regular brushing and flossing, as well as regular hygiene visits at the dentist, are the first line of defense against gum disease and quite possibly heart attack or stroke.
That’s all for now. Until next time,
Mark W Langberg, DDS, MAGD