Could brushing your teeth and washing your hands be the key to living longer?

Is brushing your teeth and washing your hands the key to living longer [Photo: Getty]

You might think that the key to living longer is eating more healthily, exercising regularly and looking after your health, both physical and mental.

But, turns out washing your hands and cleaning your teeth could be the key to a longer life.

Well, according to David Hockney it is, anyway.

In a letter to the Financial Times, the artist said he believed people were living longer thanks to the practicing of better hygiene regimes.

“I was told by a doctor many years ago that what was making people live longer was he washing of hands and the cleaning teeth,” he wrote.

“I instinctively believed this. I am still a smoker at 81 but I wash my hands and clean my teeth regularly.”

While it may seem unlikely that these simple everyday practices might contribute to warding off a premature death, particularly if you’re a smoker, turns out there is some science behind it.

In fact there have been quite a few studies that have linked tooth loss to a higher risk of death at a younger age.

One such study of more than 57,000 women showed that those with no teeth were more likely to die from heart disease.

Researchers believe it’s possible that teeth bacteria can trigger inflammation in the arteries as well as infection.

A further study looked at the relationship between the number of teeth and 5-year mortality among 70-year-olds. The results revealed that of the 600 subjects, those with 20 teeth or more had a mortality rate of 2.5%, while those with 19 or fewer teeth had a mortality rate of 6.1%, which is more than twice as high.

They were further able to analyse the data and determine that each tooth you have in your mouth at the age of 70 reduces your 5-year mortality risk by 4%.

The main culprit for this increased mortality risk is periodontal disease, which has been described by some experts as “the most infectious disease on the earth.”

In a recent study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, nearly 80 per cent of all adults were found to have some degree of periodontal disease.

As well as heart disease, periodontal disease has been linked to or is considered a potential risk factor for strokes, and diabetes, as well as respiratory disease.

“Good dental health is not only beneficial orally but there is proven research between the link of increased dental plaque and an increased risk of heart disease and strokes,” explains Dr Mervyn Druian, co founder of The London Centre for Cosmetic Dentistry.

“It is thought that the oral bacteria (plaque) can cause the liver to make high levels of certain proteins, which inflame the blood vessels.  This inflammation then could lead to a heart attack or stroke.”

Dr Druian says that another train of thought is the plaque releases toxins that then travel through the bloodstream and help to form fatty plaques in the arteries.

“These plaque deposits can lead to serious problems, such as blood clots, which can block blood flow, again increasing the risk of heart disease and strokes.

“Links have also been found between poor gum health and dementia, diabetes and problems in pregnancy,” he adds.

Washing your hands properly can help prevent the spread of disease and infection [Photo: Getty]

And what of washing your hands?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) washing your hands regularly and thoroughly can help prevent illness and the spread of infections.

The site goes on to explain that good handwashing practices can help to reduce the number of people who get sick with diarrhoea by 31%, reduce diarrhoeal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58% and helps to reduce respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16-21%.

The NHS agrees that handwashing is a vital way of preventing the spread of illnesses.

“Hands are easily contaminated with faecal bacteria [poo] when going to the toilet and this can be easily spread on to other things you touch, including food,” says Professor Jeremy Hawker, a consultant epidemiologist at Public Health England. 

“Unfortunately, not all people consistently wash their hands after going to the toilet or before handling food.

“Washing your hands with soap and water is sufficient to remove dirt, viruses or bacteria and it can reduce the risk of diarrhoea by nearly 50%.”

So there you have it, brushing your teeth and washing your hands could be the key to a longer life.

Better make sure you’re doing them both properly now, because it turns out 84% of us have been washing our hands all wrong, while more than half of us have been failing at brushing our teeth. 

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