A recent study from the University of Helsinki in Finland has revealed some startling data that may make parents think twice about their children’s oral health routines. The study followed children from age 8 to around age 35, monitoring their oral health as well as overall health for the duration of the study. What the results revealed was nothing short of ominous.

It began in 1980, when University of Helsinki researchers examined the overall oral health of 755 8-year-olds. Of those 755 children, only 33 (less than 5 percent) had no signs of oral health problems, including cavities, bleeding gums, periodontal pockets and pre-existing fillings. The rest of the children in the study had at least one of these oral health issues present, some with two, three and even four present at once. In fact, the largest percent of children – 37 percent – had all four issues present.

Fast forward to 2007, and the 8-year-olds are now about 35 years old. The university researchers looked at the overall health of the participants of the original study and found that the children who had some kind of dental problem present at age 8 were a staggering 87 percent more likely to develop a condition called subclinical atherosclerosis, or hardened arteries, and the precursor to serious heart conditions such as high blood pressure.

Furthermore, the 37 percent of participants who exhibited all four of the dental maladies measured in the initial 1980 study were 95 percent more likely to have subclinical atherosclerosis.

Dr. Allison Lesko is a dentist in Fort Collins, Colorado. She says the study once again proves how vital excellent oral health is in relation to overall health and wellness.

“We see study after study, time and time again, that shows oral health contributes to total body health,” says Lesko. “Poor oral health can contribute to diabetes, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, periodontal disease – and this is just based on adult teeth. This new study shows that it doesn’t just start with the adult teeth. It goes much farther back.”

Lesko says problems arise when parents think that baby teeth are “just baby teeth” and are therefore disposable.

“It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that baby teeth don’t matter because they fall out,” says Lesko. “But this study proves that baby teeth are vitally important and their care or lack thereof can affect your overall health in the future.”