SUNDAY, Nov. 13, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- People who visit the dentist regularly to have their teeth cleaned may lower their risk for heart attack or stroke, new research suggests.
The finding is to be presented Sunday at the American Heart Association's annual meeting, in Orlando, Fla.
In following more than 100,000 people with no history of heart problems or stroke for an average of seven years, researchers from Taiwan found those who had their teeth scraped and cleaned by a dentist or dental hygienist at least twice a year for two years had a 24 percent lower risk for heart attack and a 13 percent lower risk for stroke compared to those who never went to the dentist or only went once in two years.
"Protection from heart disease and stroke was more pronounced in participants who got tooth scaling at least once a year," said Dr. Emily (Zu-Yin) Chen, a cardiology fellow at the Veterans General Hospital in Taipei in a news release from the American Heart Association.
Professional teeth cleanings seem to reduce the growth of bacteria, which causes inflammation and can lead to the development of heart disease or stroke, she added.
One U.S. expert said links between oral health and heart health are well-known.
"The results are not surprising since there have been many studies showing association between inflammation and heart disease," said Dr. Lawrence Phillips, assistant professor of medicine in the division of cardiology and Director, Nuclear Cardiology at NYU Langone Medical Center, New York City. "With tooth scaling, the thought is that chronic inflammation is decreased. Good dental hygiene is recommended for all patients," he added.
The study authors noted they did not account for other heart attack and stroke risk factors, such as weight, smoking and race, not included in the Taiwan National Health insurance database they used as the source of their information.
Phillips pointed to other limitations to the study, as well. "It is unclear the additional risk factors that these patients had in each group beyond those recorded in their database, so we do not know if they are comparing similar patients," he said. "In addition, those people who are proactive about their health may have lower risk of heart disease and stroke, independent of their risk factors. People who go for routine dental work, such as tooth scaling, are likely to be in this group."
Meanwhile, a separate study from Sweden revealed different types of gum disease may predict the degree of risks for heart attack, stroke and heart failure. The researchers found that fewer teeth and a higher number of infections around the base of teeth increase a person's risk for congestive heart failure or heart attack. Moreover, they found greater incidence of gum bleeding was also associated with an increased risk for stroke.
Research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
The U.S. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research provides more information on heart disease and oral health.