The link between gum health and heart disease

The idea that looking after your gums could reduce your risk of heart disease may seem odd. However researchers at Columbia, in New York, claim that improving dental care will slow the speed in which plaque builds up in your arteries, and therefore that this theory could well be the truth.

The report which can be found in the Journal of the American Heart Association shows exactly how improving your gum health is linked to significantly reducing the progression of atherosclerosis. This is the process that involves plaque building up in the arteries, which could cause a person to risk heart disease, a stroke or even death.

In the study, four hundred and twenty adults who were ages between sixty and seventy-six took part. All of the participants went through artery thickness and oral infection exams at the beginning and the end of the study, which lasted a total of three years.

During the oral infection exams, the researchers retrieved five thousand plaque samples. These samples came from underneath the participant’s gums and from their teeth.

When the plaque was analysed it was found that eleven strains of bad bacteria were present which is known to be involved in periodontal disease.

Another sample that was taken was fluid from around the gums, which were assessed for levels of Interleukin – 1.

The extent to which atherosclerosis takes place, was tested by using a high-resolution ultrasound scan. This measured the artery thickness also known as intima-medial thickness (IMT) in both of the carotid arteries.

The results from the study found that by improving gum health and also reducing the proportion of bacteria linked to periodontal disease, correlated to a slower progression of atherosclerosis.

Other factors were also taken into account, for example body mass index, cholesterol levels, diabetes and smoking, which are all known for causing heart disease. However when the study was adjusted to these factors the results did not change significantly.

Researchers did not look into how the bacteria in the mouth can lead to atherosclerosis. On the other hand, one theory suggests that the increased inflammatory markers can worsen the inflammation in atherosclerosis.

In the UK, researchers reported the fact that gum disease could increase the risk of a heart attack, in 2010 (if you want to know the symptoms of gum disease read this article). They said that this is because the same bacteria that can cause the plaque to escape from the mouth, also has the ability to allow it to escape into the bloodstream and consequently trigger clots.

If you are worried about gum disease visit our dental hygienist.