For a Healthy Heart, Brush Your Teeth

Brushing your teeth twice a day—and flossing!—may do more for your body than just brighten your smile.

by Lara DeSanto Health Writer

While your dental hygiene and heart health may seem totally unrelated, your tooth brushing habits may have an impact on your risk of cardiovascular problems, according to new research.

In fact, brushing those pearly whites frequently is associated with lower risks of atrial fibrillation (Afib), or irregular heartbeat, and heart failure, per a new study in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology—and that’s something to smile about, since both of these conditions can seriously endanger your health.

Of the 161,286 participants, all of whom had no previous Afib or heart failure history before enrolling in the study, 3% developed Afib over a median follow-up of 10.5 years, and 4.9% were diagnosed with heart failure. The study found that tooth brushing three or more times per day was linked to a 10% lower risk of Afib and a 12% lower risk of heart failure—significant decreases!

Past studies show that poor oral health can lead to inflammation in the body. It happens in a chain reaction. Bad dental hygiene can lead to bacteria depositing in your bloodstream, and that bacteria triggers your body’s immune response. Next, inflammation ups the risk of other problems, including Afib and heart failure.

The researchers’ theory: Brushing your teeth frequently reduces bacteria in the space between your teeth and gums, so there is less of it to pass into the bloodstream and cause inflammation.

Should You Be Brushing More Often?

The study found that brushing three or more times per day was associated with lower risk of Afib and heart failure—but the authors say it’s too early to recommend brushing your teeth as a prevention measure for these issues: “While the role of inflammation in the occurrence of cardiovascular disease is becoming more and more evident, intervention studies are needed to define strategies of public health importance,” they said in an editorial published with the study.

So how much should you realistically be brushing your teeth? The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends you brush twice per day. And your technique is important too. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • The type of toothbrush matters. Go for a soft-bristled brush, and make sure it’s a size and shape you can fit into all areas of your mouth with ease.

  • Replace your toothbrush regularly. Set a reminder in your phone to replace your toothbrush every three or four months—or before that if the bristles are starting to fray.

  • Use a quality toothpaste. Go for a toothpaste that’s ADA-accepted and is made with fluoride for the best results. You can search for ADA-accepted products on their website.

  • Technique is key. When brushing your teeth, place the brush at a 45-degree angle to your gums. To hit the most surface area with each sweep, move the brush (gently!) back and forth across your teeth, rather than up and down. Make sure you brush all the surfaces of your tooth—outer, inner, and chewing surfaces for two minutes.

  • Don’t forget to floss. Cleaning between your teeth is vital. Don’t skip flossing, since your brush can’t reach those tight spaces! A good guideline is to floss at least once a day.

And remember: Seeing your dentist regularly (typically every six months) for a cleaning and checkup is a wise way to keep your oral health in check—and maybe even your heart health, too!

  • Guidelines for Brushing Your Teeth: American Dental Association. (2019). "Brushing Your Teeth."
  • Heart Health and Tooth Brushing Study: European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. (2019). “Improved oral hygiene care is associated with decreased risk of occurrence for atrial fibrillation and heart failure: A nationwide population-based cohort study.”
Lara DeSanto
Meet Our Writer
Lara DeSanto

Lara is a former digital editor for HealthCentral, covering Sexual Health, Digestive Health, Head and Neck Cancer, and Gynecologic Cancers. She continues to contribute to HealthCentral while she works towards her masters in marriage and family therapy and art therapy. In a past life, she worked as the patient education editor at the American College of OB-GYNs and as a news writer/editor at WTOP.com.