- A new study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that people who brushed their teeth three times per day had a lower risk of developing certain heart problems.
- Researchers speculate that minimizing bacteria in the mouth could help decrease inflammation and keep bacteria out of your bloodstream.
- Experts also say that adding another gentle brushing to your day would benefit overall oral hygiene.
You’ve heard the same advice from your dentist before you were even responsible for buying your own toothpaste: Always brush twice a day to keep your pearly whites in good shape. But new research has found that adding a third brushing to the mix may help protect your heart health.
The study, which was published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, followed 161,286 people in Korea with no history of major heart issues, like an irregular heartbeat, heart failure, or cardiac disease associated with heart valve damage.
At the beginning of the study, the participants had a standard medical exam that included a thorough oral hygiene check. On average, the researchers followed up with them in about 10 years to check on their heart health.
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What the researchers discovered is fascinating: People who brushed their teeth at least three times a day had a 12% lower risk of developing heart failure and a 10% lower risk of developing atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that usually causes poor blood flow. This was true even after the researchers factored in things like how much the participants exercised and drank, and whether they had high blood pressure.
It wasn’t just brushing at home that helped, though. People who regularly got their teeth cleaned professionally also had a lower risk of heart issues, the researchers found.
This is hardly the first study to link good oral hygiene with good heart health. A study published in the Journal of Dental Research in 2016 found that study participants who needed a root canal were almost three times more likely to have acute coronary syndrome (a condition that can cause a heart attack) than those who had healthy teeth.
So, why does brushing your teeth benefit your heart?
The study didn’t dive into this a ton, but the researchers said that it may be because brushing more often could reduce the amount of that bacteria live between the teeth and gums. When fewer bacteria live in your mouth, the chances of them getting into your bloodstream (where damage to your heart can be done) decreases.
Fact: Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.
“Bacterial infection of the gums that then gets into the bloodstream can lead to damage of the heart valves called endocarditis,” explains Jennifer Haythe, M.D., co-director of the Women’s Center for Cardiovascular Health at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and cardiologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia. If the infection goes untreated, it can lead to serious (even life-threatening) complications, like stroke, heart failure, and kidney damage.
On top of that, brushing your teeth also helps reduce infections like gingivitis and tooth decay, which can cause inflammation in your body, says Sanjiv Patel, M.D., a cardiologist at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif. “Inflammation in the body increases the risk of stroke and heart attack,” he says. “By keeping your teeth and gums clean, you ultimately have a reduction in inflammation.”
But is it even okay to brush your teeth three times a day?
While it seems excessive, it’s actually okay to add an extra brushing to your routine, provided you’re doing it right, says Mark S. Wolff, D.D.S., Ph.D., dean at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. “As long as you brush with a fluoride-containing toothpaste and you’re not horrendously aggressive, this will not be a problem. It may actually result in healthier teeth and less tooth decay,” he says.
Still, no need to stress if you haven’t been brushing three times a day. Ultimately, having healthy teeth is what matters, Dr. Wolff says. It’s also worth noting that the study didn’t actually prove that brushing your teeth more often lowers your risk of heart issues—just that people who brushed more had a lower risk, he points out. “That being said, you’re not doing any harm and you may actually be able to reduce decay and gingivitis if nothing else,” Dr. Wolff says.
As for boosting your heart health in general, Dr. Patel says maintaining healthy teeth is “just one of many factors” that can help. Exercising regularly, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and minimizing stress will also go a long way in keeping your ticker happy.
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Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamour, and more.