By Timothy Hyland


For the public health community, there is no greater challenge than the ongoing fight to reduce the incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

These illnesses, which include diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, account for a staggering 63 percent of all deaths worldwide. Moreover, as obesity, alcohol use, and poor diets proliferate worldwide, the impact of NCDs is only projected to worsen.

In fact, the World Health Organization forecasts that increased tobacco use—which already kills six million people every year—will account for the deaths of 7.5 million people annually by the early 2020s.


A recent study confirms that one simple way to help stave off NCDs is for people to brush their teeth regularly.


Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of NCDs’ unyielding lethality, though, is the fact that these illnesses are almost all entirely preventable. Quite simply, medical professionals know that if more people engaged in healthier behaviors, the incidence of NCDs would fall—perhaps dramatically.

A recent study confirms that a simple way to help stave off NCDs is for people to brush their teeth regularly.

In research published in the journal, Scientific Reports, an investigative team led by researchers from the Chongqing Medical University in Chongqing, China, found a definitive link between regular tooth brushing and decreased incidence of NCDs, concluding that the unhealthy behaviors most commonly associated with NCDs tend to cluster “within respondents who brushed teeth less frequently.”

The team says their efforts are proof that tooth brushing should be promoted as part of broader efforts to stem the growth of NCDs.

The research team studied the overall health and tooth brushing behavior of nearly 4,500 individuals over the age of 18. The data was gathered via the Chongqing Health Behavior and Disease Burden Survey, which was conducted over a seven-month period in 2012. All individuals in the study lived in Chongqing, a municipality of nearly 30 million people.

Individuals from rural areas were 1.3 times more likely to have poor oral hygiene habits as compared to those from urban locations.
Individuals from rural areas were 1.3 times more likely to have poor oral hygiene habits as compared to those from urban locations.

The team’s results showed a strong correlation between regular tooth brushing and better overall health, with those individuals having poor oral hygiene being significantly more likely to consume insufficient amounts of fruits and vegetables and engage in smoking and heavy drinking.

Among the findings were the following:

  • More than half the respondents who rarely brushed their teeth admitted to being active smokers. As the team noted, this was a particularly striking finding, as the overall smoking rate among Chinese adults is actually just 27 percent—and less than 3 percent among women.
  • There was a much higher prevalence of heavy drinking among those who brushed their teeth less than once per day (nearly 48 percent) as compared to those who said they brushed after every meal (30 percent).
  • Men were 1.6 times more likely to be infrequent brushers than women, and individuals from rural areas were 1.3 times more likely to have poor oral hygiene habits as compared to those from urban locations.

The authors noted that they did not see evidence strong enough to conclude—as some earlier studies have—that there is a definitive link between regular tooth brushing and poor exercise habits. Additionally, they did see a correlation between regular brushing and unhealthy habits related to the over-consumption of red meat. (They surmised that this link might be related to the individuals’ socioeconomic status.)

However, the researchers said that, given what is already known about the importance of oral health as it relates to the incidence of NCDs (periodontal disease has been linked strongly with cardiovascular disease and some cancers), they said their work could help “shed new light on integrated prevention for NCDs and oral disease.” 

Going forward, they recommended that those prevention efforts should include education about the importance of tooth brushing—not only for oral health, but for overall health as well.

“The interrelation between tooth brushing behavior, smoking, alcohol consumption, and unhealthy diet demonstrates the importance of adequate brushing habits in preventing NCDs,” they wrote.

“Common lifestyle interventions have been proposed to reduce the burden of NCDs and oral diseases, by adopting a collaborative approach targeting all common risk factors simultaneously,” they reported. “However, tooth brushing, which is a key element of good oral health, has been a neglected factor in reinforcing the control of NCDs in China.”


Author: Contributing writer Timothy Hyland has more than 20 years’ experience as a writer, reporter, and editor. His work has also appeared in Fast Company, Roll Call, Philadelphia Business Journal, and the Washington Times.

Also by Mr. Hyland:

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