A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association study suggests that children who develop cavities and gum disease, may be more likely to develop risk factors for heart disease and strokes decades later than children who have good oral health.

• Researchers in Finland did dental exams for 755 children when they were 8 years old then re-examined them 27 years later to see how many of them developed risk factors for heart attacks and strokes like high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, high blood sugar and hardening of the arteries.

• Overall, 4.5 percent of these children had no signs of bleeding, cavities, fillings or pockets around teeth that can signal gum disease. These kids had a better cardiovascular risk profile (lower blood pressure, body mass index, glucose, cholesterol).

– 6 percent of these kids had at least one sign of an oral infection, while 17 percent had 2 signs, 38 percent had three signs and 34 percent had all 4 signs.
– Kids who had even one sign of an oral infection were 87 percent more likely to develop what’s known as subclinical atherosclerosis – structural changes and thickening in the artery walls that isn’t yet serious enough to cause complications.
– Children with all 4 signs of oral infection were 95 percent more likely to develop this type of artery damage.
– More than 4 in 5 kids had cavities and fillings and 68 percent of them also had bleeding during dental exams. Slight pocketing around the gum was observed in 54 percent of the children, even though it was more often found in boys than girls.
– Both cavities and pocketing that can signal gum disease were associated with the thickening of walls of the carotid arteries, blood vessels in the neck that carry blood from the heart to the brain. This indicates the progression of atherosclerosis and an increased risk for heart attacks and strokes.

• Oral infections are among the most common infection-induced inflammatory diseases worldwide and periodontal disease in adults have long been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

• Most people get cavities and gum disease for the first time in childhood and these conditions can develop into more serious infections and tooth loss if they aren’t properly treated. Treating these oral health problems in childhood can also reduce inflammation and other risk factors for hardening the arteries.

• This emphasizes how important good oral hygiene and frequent check-ups with a dentist starting early in life are for general health. We recommend seeing the child for their initial dental exam at 2-3 years of age.