Nov. 16, 2011 (Orlando, Fla.) -- Getting your teeth cleaned may give you more than a sparkling white smile -- it may give you something to smile about, like your health.
In a large study, people who had their teeth professionally scaled at least once every two years were 24% less likely to have a heart attack, compared with those who skipped the hygienist. Scaling cleans between the gums and the teeth.
And their risk of stroke dropped by 13%, says study researcher Zu-Yin Chen, MD, a cardiology fellow at the Veterans General Hospital in Taipei, Taiwan.
"Something as simple as having good dental hygiene -- brushing, flossing, and having regular cleanings -- may be good for your heart and brain health," says Ralph Sacco, MD, head of neurology at the University of Miami. Sacco, the immediate past president of the American Heart Association (AHA), was not involved with the work.
Although the link between dental health and heart and stroke risk is not entirely clear, inflammation is a common problem in gum disease and heart disease, Sacco tells WebMD.
A number of studies have linked chronic inflammation to hardening of the arteries, which can lead to heart attacks and stroke, he says.
Cleaning your teeth gets rid of bacteria in the mouth that can lead to chronic infection and inflammation, which can then spread to other parts of the body, Chen says.
The study was presented here at the American Heart Association annual meeting.
Benefits of Frequent Teeth Cleaning
Chen and colleagues reviewed the records of more than 100,000 people in Taiwan's national health insurance database. About half had received at least one cleaning; the other half had never had a cleaning.
Their average age was 38 years. None had suffered a heart attack or stroke when the study began. They were followed for an average of seven years.
Results showed that people who had more than one cleaning a year had the lowest risk of heart attack and stroke, Chen tells WebMD.
Because the researchers didn't have information on heart attack and stroke risk factors such as weight, smoking, and race -- which could have affected the results -- it could be that people with good dental hygiene are more likely to eat right and have other heart-healthy habits, Sacco says.
These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.