TORONTO -- A new study out of Europe has identified a link between brushing teeth and preventing heart attacks.

Researchers with the European Society of Cardiology examined health data from more than 161,000 people with no history of heart problems. After a 10-year follow-up, 3 per cent of them had developed atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm) and nearly 5 per cent developed heart failure.

Tooth-brushing three times a day or more was linked to 10 per cent lower risk of atrial fibrillation and 12 per cent lower risk of heart failure.

Senior author Dr. Tae-Jin Song of Ewha Womans University in Seoul noted in a press release that the findings published Monday in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology don’t prove causation, but the analysis is strong.

“We studied a large group over a long period, which adds strength to our findings,” he said. The analysis also adjusted for age, sex, socioeconomic status, regular exercise, alcohol consumption, body mass index, and other present conditions like hypertension.

Previous studies had shown that poor oral hygiene can have negative health effects, including bacteria in the blood leading to inflammation in the body, which in turn increases the risk of heart problems such as atrial fibrillation and heart failure.

In an accompanying editorial by researchers from Hamilton, Ont. and Basel in Switzerland, acknowledged that the research provided a large sample size and recognized the association between poor oral hygiene and heart problems, but stopped short of encouraging a public health campaign.

“The causality of these associations is unclear, and it is certainly too early to recommend tooth brushing for the prevention of (atrial fibrillation) and (congestive heart failure),” they wrote.