Study: Junk food, poor oral health increase risk of heart disease

The association between poor oral health and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) should make the reduction of sugars such as those in junk food, particularly carbonated sodas, an important health policy target, according to new study (Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, December 2013. Vol. 106:12, pp. 472-473).

Poor oral hygiene and excess sugar consumption can lead to periodontal disease in which the supporting bone around the teeth is destroyed. Studies show that chronic infection from periodontal disease can trigger an inflammatory response that leads to heart disease through atherosclerosis.

Despite convincing evidence linking poor oral health to premature heart disease, the most recent U.K. national guidance on preventing CVD mentions the reduction of sugar only indirectly, the study authors said.

Noting that the global consumption of junk food is on the rise, the British researchers said the astronomical growth of the fast food industry in the past few decades has led to a dramatic rise in the availability of such food.

"Worryingly, fast food outlets are most prevalent in low-income neighborhoods, and there have been suggestions that policy-makers should consider limiting the number per community, particularly in school areas," the researchers wrote.

They pointed out that soft drinks are of particular concern since they are the main source of free sugar for many people. From 1980 to 2000, for example, the contribution of soft drinks to total sugar intake more than doubled from 15% to 37%, and these figures have continued to increase since, the study authors found.

They noted the well-publicized New York soda ban controversy that has brought the issue to the attention of many. Yet, in the U.K., they point out that carbonated soft drinks remain commonly available in public areas ranging from hospitals to schools.

"The U.K. population should be encouraged to reduce fizzy drink intake and improve oral hygiene," the study authors concluded. "Reducing sugar consumption and managing dental problems early could help prevent heart problems later in life."

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