9 February 2005
Brush Your Teeth And Prevent Heart Attack
by Kate Melville
Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center say that people with gum disease are more likely to suffer from atherosclerosis - a narrowing of blood vessels that can lead to stroke or heart attack. The study, appearing in the journal Circulation, provides the most direct evidence to date that preventing gum disease could significantly improve your chances of avoiding vascular problems.
Other studies have suggested a relationship between periodontal disease and vascular disease, but they have relied on surrogate markers for periodontal disease, such as tooth loss or pocket depth. This is the first study to examine the microbiology of periodontal infection and positively connect it to atherosclerosis. "This is the most direct evidence yet that gum disease may lead to stroke or cardiovascular disease," said Moïse Desvarieux, lead author of the paper. "And because gum infections are preventable and treatable, taking care of your oral health could very well have a significant impact on your cardiovascular health."
The researchers measured the bacteria levels in the mouths of 657 people who had no history of stroke or myocardial infarction. They also measured the thickness of the subjects' carotid arteries - the artery that are measured to identify atherosclerosis. The researchers found that people with a higher level of the specific bacteria that causes periodontal disease also had an increased carotid artery thickness, even after taking other cardiovascular risk factors into account. Desvarieux and his colleagues showed that in these people, atherosclerosis is associated specifically with the type of bacteria that causes periodontal disease, and not with other oral bacteria. They confirmed this by assessing the levels of three different groups of microbes - those that are known to cause periodontal disease, those that are thought to possibly cause periodontal disease, and those that are not connected to the disease. Desvarieux says one possible explanation for the link is that the bacteria that cause the gum disease may migrate throughout the body via the bloodstream and stimulate the immune system, causing inflammation that results in the clogging of arteries.
"We will continue to study these patients to determine if atherosclerosis continues over time and is definitively associated with periodontal disease," concluded Desvarieux.