Study: Heart Health May Begin In The Mouth

Mar 20, 2019

Brushing and flossing may lower the risk of heart disease, a new study suggests.

The observational study conducted by the Institute of Biomedical and Health Sciences at Hiroshima University in Japan and presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions in Chicago last October looked at the tooth-brushing behavior of 682 people.  After adjusting for other factors, researchers found that those who did not follow the suggested brushing time of at least two minutes at least twice a day had three times the risk of heart problems when compared with people who brushed for longer.

Dr. Richard Stevenson, a cardiac surgeon with Saint Bernards Medical Center, discusses the relationship between oral health and heart health.
Credit Ann Kenda / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Dr. Richard Stevenson, a cardiac surgeon with St. Bernards Medical Center in Jonesboro, says a link between dental heart and heart health has been known for many decades, but recent studies are suggesting that the connection may be even stronger than previously thought.

“It’s a fertile area for research,” he says.

Stevenson says the same bacteria that leads to tooth and gum decay may put the body into a state of low-grade inflammation that leads to heart disease, such as hardening of the arteries.

Dr. Jonathan Cook, a dentist with Jonesboro Dental Care, says his team takes special precautions with patients with known heart valve problems in order to avoid moving any bacteria into the blood during dental procedures.  Such precautions include having the patient take antibiotics before invasive procedures, and asking their cardiologist or heart surgeon whether it’s OK to have them temporarily stop taking blood thinners.

Cook agreed with Dr. Stevenson about the need for more research to establish the true extent of the relationship between oral health and heart health.

“I’d rather have an abundance of information,” he says.

Local hygienists say longer brushing times and regular flossing will help reduce the inflammation that may lead to heart disease, among other benefits.  Suzanne Cline with Jonesboro Dental Care offers some tips:

This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media, a statewide journalism collaboration among partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK, and community partners AETN, and the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Arkansas Public Media’s series on oral health in Arkansas is funded through a grant from the Delta Dental of Arkansas Foundation, and with the support of its partner stations. You can learn more about Arkansas Public Media’s reporting at arkansaspublicmedia.org.