Children are often reminded by their parents to brush their teeth every day. While some kids have no problem with this habit, others are harder to encourage and refuse to clean their pearly whites. These actions could lead to complications like tooth decay or gum disease. Now, recent evidence suggests that children who refuse to brush their teeth regularly are also at a higher risk of heart disease later on in life.
A study published in the JAMA Network Open found an association between childhood oral infections and adulthood atherosclerosis, a disease wherein plaque builds up inside the arteries, blocking the flow of blood.
“The observation is novel since there are no earlier follow-up studies on childhood oral infections and the risk of cardiovascular diseases,” said study co-author Pirkko Pussinen.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, scientists aren’t sure what exactly causes atherosclerosis. However, there are certain habits or traits that may increase your risk of this specific disease. (Related: Atherosclerosis and inflammation: How to overcome it naturally.)
Some of these risk factors include:
- Smoking — This can damage and tighten blood vessels, as well as raise both cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Smoking also makes it difficult for the body to transport oxygen to tissues.
- Lack of physical activity — A sedentary lifestyle can lead to other risk factors of atherosclerosis like high blood pressure and obesity.
- Unhealthy diets — Many unhealthy foods contain a large amount of saturated and trans fat, sodium, cholesterol, and sugar, which can worsen the state of your heart, as well as worsen the other risk factors.
- Obesity — High body mass index is directly associated with atherosclerosis risk.
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The researchers explained that the role of oral infections – like periodontitis – as an independent risk factor for atherosclerotic vascular diseases was already established by previous studies. However, much of the evidence did not support a causative relationship.
In this cohort study, researchers from the University of Helsinki followed 755 participants from the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study. The participants underwent a baseline evaluation and oral examination at ages 6, 9, or 12 when the study was initiated in 1980. Researchers asked the children, or their parents, to answer a questionnaire regarding their oral hygiene habits. Afterward, the researchers recorded the number of teeth and measured present and previous dental infections and periodontal diseases.
The follow-up period lasted until the end of 2007 where the researchers analyzed and measured carotid artery intima-media thickness using ultrasound results from participants aged 33, 36, and 39. At several points in this 27-year follow up, the researchers measured the cardiovascular risk factors of the participants.
The results revealed that 68, 87, and 82 percent of the children involved in the study had bleeding gums, tooth decay, and fillings, respectively. The researchers found no difference between boys and girls regarding these results.
Additionally, they found that 54 percent of the participants had slight periodontal pocketing, which are spaces around the teeth that have become infected. For this particular result, the researchers found it more frequent in the boys than in the girls.
Of all the mouths examined in this cohort study, only five percent could be considered totally healthy, whereas 5.6 percent had only one sign, 17.4 percent had two signs, 38.3 percent had three signs, and 34.1 percent had a total of four signs of oral infections.
“The number of signs associated significantly with the cumulative exposure to the cardiovascular risk factors in adulthood, but especially in childhood,” said professor Markus Juoala, who was not related to the study.
The authors concluded that childhood oral infections were directly associated with atherosclerosis much later in life and that this association remained consistent throughout the entire follow-up.
A healthier heart leads to a healthier life. Check out HeartDisease.news to learn how to naturally prevent diseases like atherosclerosis.