Brushing your teeth could help keep your heart healthy, research suggests.
Scientists from Ewha Womans University in Seoul analysed the dental habits of more than 161,000 people over 10 years.
They found those who brushed their teeth at least three times a day were 12% less likely to suffer heart failure, when the organ fails to pump blood around the body as effectively as it should.
Keeping good oral hygiene also reduced the risk of atrial fibrillation, when the heart beats abnormally, by 10%.
Failing to brush regularly may allow “bad bacteria” in the mouth to enter the blood via the gums. This could trigger inflammation that affects heart health.
Heart failure affects 200,000 new people every year in the UK, British Heart Foundation (BHF) statistics show.
In the US, around 5.7 million adults suffer from the condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Left untreated, sufferers can become so breathless and fatigued their day-to-day activities are severely limited, NHS reports. In severe cases, it can even be fatal.
Poor oral hygiene has been linked to impaired heart health before, however, it was unclear why.
Inflammation was one theory, while some claimed those who fail to look after their teeth may neglect other aspects of their wellbeing, like diet and exercise.
To learn more, the scientists looked at thousands of participants of the Korean National Health Insurance System. At the start of the study, they were aged 40-to-79 years old and healthy.
Over 10.5 years, 4.9% of the participants developed heart failure and 3% had atrial fibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation occurs when the electrical impulses that cause that heart to beat go awry. This raises the risk of blood clots and stroke, according to Stroke Association UK.
The condition affects 1.2 million people in the UK and up to 6.1 million in the US, statistics show.
The latest study’s results, published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, reveal those who brushed their teeth at least three times a day were less at risk of both heart failure and atrial fibrillation.
This remained true after the scientists adjusted for factors like weight, exercise, alcohol consumption and blood pressure.
“We studied a large group over a long period, which adds strength to our findings,” study author Dr Tae-Jin Song said.
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The scientists stress, however, maintaining good oral hygiene may not be enough to ward off cardiovascular disease.
Writing in an accompanying editorial, they said: “It is certainly too early to recommend tooth brushing for the prevention of atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure.
“While the role of inflammation in the occurrence of cardiovascular disease is becoming more and more evident, intervention studies are needed to define strategies of public health importance.”