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Toothbrushing May Stave Off Heart Woes

Here's another reason to brush your teeth regularly: People who don't perform this essential of oral hygiene seem to have a greater risk of heart disease compared to their more diligent peers.

"We were surprised to find a relationship between toothbrushing frequency and both cardiovascular disease and inflammatory markers in the blood," said Richard Watt, co-author of a study published this week in the BMJ.

"We have not established a causal relationship, however. More research is needed to test if improving patients' oral hygiene to reduce their gum inflammation has an effect on cardiovascular disease risk," added Watt, who is with the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London.

The findings do make sense, however, in light of previous studies that have found a relationship between gum disease and heart disease. Periodontal disease has been associated with a 19 percent increase in the risk of heart disease. That number leaps to 44 percent in people under the age of 65, according to the study.

The most likely culprit is the inflammation associated with gum disease, which can go system-wide and contribute to plaque build-up in the arteries.

The study authors surveyed almost 12,000 people living in Scotland who admitted to how often they brushed their teeth.

Over an average eight years of follow-up, people who "rarely or never brushed" their teeth had a 70 percent increased risk of a heart attack, stroke or other event, compared to those who set to the task twice a day.

The rarely/never brushers also had higher levels of C reactive protein, a marker of inflammation.

Overall, though, participants practiced good oral hygiene with almost two-thirds saying they went to the dentist every six months and almost three-quarters reporting brushing their teeth twice daily.

"We talk often about lifestyle behaviors such as smoking, exercise and diet, and one of the things we can't forget about when it comes to self-maintenance is oral hygiene," said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and spokeswoman for the American Heart Association. "It's one new thing. Don't smoke, eat right and brush your teeth."

"It's nice to have one more reason to brush your teeth," added Dr. Harmony R. Reynolds, associate director of the Cardiovascular Clinical Research Center at NYU Langone Medical Center and assistant professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine. "Over time, it reduces inflammation."

SOURCES: Richard Watt, Ph.D., department of epidemiology and public health, University College London; Suzanne Steinbaum, D.O., preventive cardiologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City, and spokeswoman, American Heart Association; Harmony R. Reynolds, M.D., associate director, Cardiovascular Clinical Research Center, NYU Langone Medical Center, and assistant professor of medicine, New York University School of Medicine, New York City; May 28, 2010, BMJ Published on: May 28, 2010