SEOUL, South Korea — Between brushing at least twice daily, flossing after meals, and bi-annual visits to the dentist, maintaining one’s oral hygiene can feel like a full-time job at times. If you need some extra motivation to get off the couch and pick up the toothbrush, consider the findings of a new study conducted in South Korea: frequently and consistently brushing one’s teeth is associated with lower risks of both atrial fibrillation (AFib) and heart failure.
Prior research has already established that poor oral health can lead to bacteria entering the blood stream, causing inflammation. The research team, from Ewha Womans University, theorized that this inflammation may increase the risk of an irregular heart beat (atrial fibrillation) and heart failure. So, they set out to either prove or disprove their hypothesis using data collected on 161,286 Koreans. Only enrollees between the ages of 40-79 with no history of atrial fibrillation or heart failure were included in the research.
All of the insurance enrollees had undergone an initial medical examination in 2003-2004, in which various pieces of information were collected, including height, weight, prior illnesses, lifestyle, oral health, and oral hygiene habits.
Then, over the course of a median follow up period of 10 and a half years, 3% (4,911) of the enrollees ended up developing AFib and 4.9% (7,971) experienced a form of heart failure.
Incredibly, the study’s authors discovered that teeth brushing three or more times daily was associated with a 10% reduction in AFib risk and a 12% lower risk of heart failure over the course of the follow up period. These findings held true even after accounting for other factors such as age, sex, exercise frequency, alcohol consumption, and BMI.
While the research team weren’t able to definitively ascertain the cause of their findings, they believe there is a strong possibility that frequent teeth brushing reduces the amount of bacteria present in the pockets between our teeth and gums, consequently preventing oral bacteria from entering the bloodstream and causing inflammation.
“We studied a large group over a long period, which adds strength to our findings,” comments senior author Dr. Tae-Jin Song in a statement.
Still, researchers made it a point to note that additional research on a more diverse population sample is needed before any absolute claims can be made.
The study is published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.