As the pandemic continues, some folks remain nervous about visiting the dentist. Yet there are still no documented cases of patients becoming infected through dental care. In the US, less than 1% of dentists have found to be COVID-positive.

More, international research suggests that when standard safety precautions are followed – like those we’ve followed since last spring – the risk of transmission is near zero.

And, truth be told, keeping up with your regular exams and cleanings is an important part of protecting your health – not just against COVID but the many systemic conditions that science has found to be linked to oral health, gum health in particular.

Some of the latest evidence was published just this past week in the American Heart Journal.

The study focused on more than 10,000 participants in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities survey. A dental cohort of nearly 6000 with no prior atrial fibrillation (AF) were examined for signs of gum disease. Atrial fibrillation is an irregular, often fast, heart rate that can lead to heart failure and stroke, among other problems.

The more severe the gum disease, the greater the risk of atrial fibrillation. “This association,” noted the authors, “may explain the PD-stroke risk” – that is, the link between gum (periodontal) disease and cardiometabolic stroke.

Another set of more than 9600 people without AF were classified into two groups, one who saw their dentist regularly and one who skipped the regular visits and went only when troubles arose. All were followed for 17 years to see if they developed AF. Those who shirked regular appointments were found to be at higher risk.

Overall, “the researchers concluded that regular dental care can modestly reduce the risk of atrial fibrillation by 22%.”

Earlier research, such as this 2018 study in the journal Stroke, has similarly suggested that the relationship between poor periodontal health and stroke “may be because of coronary artery disease or atrial fibrillation related to periodontal disease induced inflammation.”

Likewise, this research team found that regular dental care seems to lower that risk.

“Dental care is essential for maintaining good oral health, preventing periodontal disease, and identifying symptoms of systemic conditions that might first manifest in the mouth,” they wrote.

A population-based, nationwide study in Taiwan identified periodontal disease as an important risk factor for incident ischemic stroke and showed that periodontal treatment lowered risk of stroke, significantly among young adults. To our knowledge, this [their own study] would be the first US study to report the independent role of regular dental care in prevention of incident ischemic stroke in a relatively elderly population. This is further validated by the fact that dental care was associated with lower burden of periodontal disease.

So don’t skip those dental appointments. They just might turn out to be life-saving.

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