Study of the Day: Once-a-Year Visit to the Dentist Is Good for the Heart

Good dental hygiene may reduce bacterial growth that can lead to heart disease or stroke, researchers led by a cardiologist have found

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PROBLEM: If you're skeptical about the rule urging you to visit your dentist twice a year, you have good reason to be. Though these appointments are essential to check up on cavities, gum disease, and oral cancer, the number recommended is really just a "best guess" agreed upon by dental and health organizations more than 50 years ago.

METHODOLOGY: Researchers led by cardiologist Zu-Yin Chen looked at how often patients should actually have their teeth cleaned, at least to reduce the risk for heart disease. They analyzed the records of 100,000 people with no prior history of heart attacks or strokes using the Taiwan National Health insurance database for seven years. Other potential risk factors, including weight, smoking habits, and race, were not controlled for in the analysis.

RESULTS: Those who had their teeth scraped and cleaned by a professional had a 24 percent lower risk of heart attack and 13 percent lower risk of stroke compared to those who did not.

CONCLUSION: Once-a-year professional tooth scaling protects your heart from disease and stroke.

IMPLICATIONS: Good dental hygiene may reduce inflammation-causing bacterial growth that can lead to heart disease or stroke, the authors say in a news release. Perhaps more importantly, this study adds to evidence that oral and cardiovascular health are linked; previously, researchers found that gum disease predicts heart attack, congestive heart failure, and stroke.

SOURCE: The full study, "The Association of Tooth Scaling and Decreased Cardiovascular Disease -A Nationwide Population-Based Study," was presented yesterday at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2011.

Image: dean bertoncelj/Shutterstock.

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Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

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