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Brushing could keep heart disease at bay
Updated: 11/14/2013 12:59:56 PM
 

Brushing could keep heart disease at bay

A glass of red wine may be an enjoyable way to prevent heart disease, but this drink can cause stains on teeth. Luckily, a recent study suggests that brushing your teeth just twice a day also has its role to play in fending off cardiovascular problems.

Plaque affects plaque
Researchers from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health followed took 5,008 plaque samples from 420 adults for the three-year study, examining bacterial strains found around teeth and behind gums. What they found was a link between periodontal disease – an inflammation of the gums –and atherosclerosis, a heart condition where built-up plaque narrows arteries. 

Follow-up appointments with researchers after three years revealed a thickening of the arteries by about 0.1 mm for patients with worsening gum infections. That number may seem small, but according to the study's press release, the fraction of a millimeter increase per year could more than double a person's risk of coronary events, such as heart attacks and stroke.

The importance of action
Periodontal disease is usually the result of poor dental hygiene. As plaque builds, the gums become irritated and inflamed, thereby ruining the support structure that holds teeth in place.  Regular brushing, flossing and visits to the dentists for more thorough cleanings can greatly help fend off the disease. The study, however, indicated that it's not enough to start brushing only when problems develop.

"Our results show a clear relationship between what is happening in the mouth and thickening of the carotid artery, even before the onset of full-fledged periodontal disease,"said co-author Panos Papapanou, D.D.S., Ph.D and professor of Dental Medicine at Columbia University.

In addition to atherosclerosis, poor oral health may also have a relationship to a host of other overall health problems, according to the Mayo Clinic. For example, osteoporosis may be linked to tooth and oral bone loss. Premature birth and low birth weight are associated with periodontitis. Endocarditis - an infection of the lining of the heart - can be the result of bacteria and germs entering the body through the mouth. Diabetes can also result in worsened gum health as it reduces a person's resistance to infection. 

Covering the bases
While flossing and brushing can do their part, people should still schedule annual cleanings and check-ups with a dentist. People without dental insurance may wish to consider free clinics or dental plans as a means of covering the cost of a routine cleanings.

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