Brushing teeth could prevent heart attacks and strokes
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Brushing and flossing can be good for your heart and blood vessels as well as your teeth, according to research.
Dental treatments and good oral hygiene can help the flow of blood through arteries, the study by British and US researchers found. It could help prevent heart attacks and strokes, they say.
A group of 120 patients with severe periodontitis - gum disease - were given either a standard or specially-intensive course of treatment which included clearing bacteria-filled plaque, and the extraction of teeth that were no longer safely rooted in the gum.
Initially the function of blood vessels of intensively-treated patients appeared to worsen. But after 60 days they improved compared with patients given the standard treatment. After 180 days a difference of 2% was seen between the groups.
Dilation of the arteries in response to blood flow was increased. This occurred at the same time as the patients' gums became healthier.
The findings from scientists at University College London and the University of Connecticut in the US are reported today in the New England Journal of Medicine. John Deanfield, from the UCL Institute of Child Health, said: "Previous studies have shown an association between periodontitis and blood vessel dysfunction, heart attack and stroke.
"However, a clinical trial was required to test whether these links could be causal. This is the first time that a direct link has been made between treatment for gum disease and improved circulatory function, which is relevant to some of the UK's biggest killers: heart attack and stroke.
"This finding therefore has potential implications for public health, but further studies are required to determine whether the treatment of severe periodontitis could directly contribute to the prevention of disease of the arteries (atherosclerosis), stroke and heart attacks."
The precise mechanism by which gum disease affects the function of blood vessel cell walls is still uncertain. Gum disease involves infection by bacteria which invade tissue around the teeth. One possibility is that some of these bacteria enter the bloodstream and cause direct damage to arteries. Another is that they trigger a low-grade inflammatory response throughout the body.
Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said: "It has long been known that people with abnormal heart valves can become seriously ill if they have poor dental hygiene. Several recent studies have hinted that poor oral health may also increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
"This important study provides direct evidence linking an improvement in dental health with better blood vessel function. Longer-term studies will show if this also means reduced levels of heart disease for this group of patients. It may be that people who take care of their dental hygiene avoid more than just a toothache."