By John Salak –
Good dental care isn’t just a matter of maintaining a great smile and consequently a better public image. It is thought to be a pathway to boosting general well-being. Regular flossing alone is believed to reduce the risk of everything from stroke to heart disease.
A few years ago, Harvard Health Publishing even quoted research that there was a correlation between gingivitis and gum disease and eventual deterioration of nerve cells that leads to memory loss or Alzheimer’s Disease. Now the University of Michigan has chimed in on the need to take care of those pearly whites.
Its research discovered that patients receiving regular periodontal care or dental cleanings recovered from heart attacks more quickly than those who didn’t pay much attention to their teeth. In fact, after studying three years’ worth of data from 3,000 individuals who suffered an acute myocardial infarction (heart attacks), it found that individuals who received periodontal maintenance care had the shortest hospital stays. The longest stays were experienced by the no-dental-care group.
“After controlling for several factors, the periodontal care group had higher odds of having post-hospital visits,” reported study co-author Romesh Nalliah, associate dean for patient services at the U-M School of Dentistry.
The Michigan study did not identify why those who took care of their teeth fared better. But Nalliah stressed the university’s results underscored earlier research supporting a connection between oral health and overall health.
This is no small matter considering there are 800,000 heart attacks annually in the U.S. and those with periodontal disease face an increased risk for hospitalization after an attack.
“Dentistry is often practiced in isolation from overall health care,” Nalliah said. “Our results add weight to the evidence that medical and dental health are closely interrelated. More and more studies like ours are showing that it is a mistake to practice medicine without the thoughtful consideration of the patient’s oral health.”
The results also support a greater need for improved communication between medical and dental teams in order to support early intervention for those with periodontal issues who have risk factors for heart disease.
“It is important to include dental care in routine medical care and this means insurances must facilitate this connection rather than offer dental insurance as a separate add-on coverage,” he said.