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News / October 1, 2010

Dental visits cut heart risks for women not men

by Guy Hiscott

Women who regularly see a dentist cut the risk of heart attacks, stroke and other cardiovascular problems by at least one third.

That’s according to a new study from the States.

But this did not apply to men.

The analysis, by the University of California, used data from nearly 7,000 people ages 44-88 enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study.

Published online in the journal Health Economics, the study compared people who went to the dentist during the previous two years with those who did not.

The findings add to a growing body of research linking gum disease with risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

Lead author, Timothy Brown, assistant adjunct professor of health policy and management at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, says: ‘Many studies have found associations between dental care and cardiovascular disease, but our study is the first to show that general dental care leads to fewer heart attacks, strokes, and other adverse cardiovascular outcomes in a causal way.’

The fact that men and women did not benefit equally from dental care did not completely surprise the researchers.

Timothy Brown says: ‘To my knowledge, previous studies in this area have found that the relationship between poor oral health and cardiovascular disease markers varies by gender, but none have examined differences between men and women with regard to actual cardiovascular disease events.’

The team felt that the ‘findings reflect differences in how men and women develop cardiovascular disease.

They say: ‘Other studies suggest that oestrogen has a protective effect against heart disease because it helps prevent the development of atherosclerosis. It’s not until women hit menopause around age 50 to 55 that they start catching up with men.’

The study authors suggest that for dental care to have a protective effect, it should occur early in the development of cardiovascular disease.

The researchers did not have data on the type of procedures used during the dental visit, but they pointed to other studies that indicated three-fourths of older adult dental visits involved preventive services, such as cleaning, fluoride and sealant treatments.