Periodontal disease in adults has long been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. However, a recent study is showing that children with cavities and gum disease may be more likely to develop risk factors for heart disease in adulthood, than kids who have good oral health.
In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers looked at the oral health of 755 children back in 1980 and then followed up 27 years later to see how many of them had developed risk factors for heart attacks and strokes.
The researchers looked at four oral health markers in the children. Cavities in the teeth, cavities that had previously been treated with fillings, pockets in the gums around the teeth and signs of bleeding in the gums upon probing during an exam. Only 4.5% of the children had none of these four signs of oral infection. Almost 6% of the children had one of these markers of oral infection, 17% had two of the signs, 38% had three signs and 34% had all four signs of oral infection.
The study showed that kids who had even one of these signs of oral infection, were 87% more likely to develop structural changes and thickening in the artery walls. Kids with all four markers of poor oral health were 95% more likely to develop this type of artery damage.
Most people get cavities and gum disease for the first time in their childhood. If these conditions are not properly treated they can develop into more serious infections and even bone and/or tooth loss into adulthood. It now appears that treating these oral health problems can also reduce inflammation and other risk factors for hardening of the arteries.
Importance of Establishing Good Oral Hygiene Habits in Childhood
This obviously re-emphasizes how important it is to establish good oral hygiene habits in childhood, as well as, frequent and consistent dental check-ups with the dentist, and proactively treating any dental infections quickly.
“The children with a healthy mouth had a better cardiovascular risk profile throughout the whole follow up period,” Pussinen, one of the researchers stated.
This study was not a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how oral health problems might directly cause heart attacks or strokes. Not everyone with sub-clinical atherosclerosis or other risk factors will go on to have a stroke or heart attack. Poor oral health is also associated with an increase in blood pressure and body mass index in early adulthood, both of which can also be associated with poor cardiovascular health in adulthood.
Even if the findings found in this study show only a causal relationship between poor oral health in childhood and an increase in future risk of cardiovascular disease, the relationship is there and should not be ignored. There are so many reasons to establish good oral health in childhood and maintain it through adulthood. This study adds another good reason.