NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Older adults who get thorough dental cleanings may be somewhat less likely to suffer acute myocardial infarction (MI) or stroke than their peers who are less careful about oral hygiene, a new study hints.
The study, of nearly 22,000 Taiwanese adults age 50 and older, found that those who’d had a professional tooth scaling in the past year were less likely to have a cardiovascular event over the next seven years.
The findings, reported online April 5 in the American Journal of Medicine, do not prove that proper dental cleaning will cut a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease. But the study is in line with past research that has linked periodontal disease to an increased risk of heart disease, said lead researcher Dr. Zu-Yin Chen, a cardiology fellow at Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan.
Since periodontal disease is caused by bacterial infection, researchers suspect that it may contribute to MI or stroke by causing a chronic state of inflammation in blood vessels. And studies have shown that treating periodontal disease can cut the levels of inflammatory markers in blood. Still, no one knows for sure whether regular dental visits can prevent a future cardiovascular event.
For the study, Dr. Chen’s team looked at insurance records for 21,876 adults age 50 and older. Taiwan’s national healthcare program pays for tooth scaling, whether a person has severe periodontal disease or not. About half of the people in the study had had a tooth scaling in the past year, while the rest had not.
Over the next seven years, those who had tooth scaling had a lower incidence of acute MI (1.6% vs 2.2%; p<.001), stroke (8.9% vs 10%; p=.03) and total cardiovascular events (10% vs 11.6%; p<.001) compared with those that did not have tooth scaling.
After multivariate analysis, tooth scaling was independently associated with less risk of developing future acute MI (HR 0.69), stroke (HR 0.85) and total cardiovascular events (HR 0.84).
An increasing frequency of tooth scaling correlated with a higher risk reduction of acute myocardial infarction, stroke, and total cardiovascular events (p for trend <.001).
But the study also had a number of limitations. An important one, Dr. Chen said, was that they had no information on key risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as smoking, weight, diet and family history. It’s also impossible for the study to determine whether people who get regular dental cleanings might also have a healthier lifestyle in other ways.
For now, the researchers recommend good oral hygiene taking for the sake of your oral health — with the possibility of benefiting your heart health as well.
“Bad dental hygiene is detrimental to our health, so it’s very important to take care of your teeth,” said Dr. Chen, who presented some of his team’s results last November at the American Heart Association meeting.
Am J Med 2012.