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Can Poor Oral Health Really Lead to Heart Disease?

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A slew of recent studies have already linked periodontitis or gum disease to an increased risk of heart disease.

In 2012, the American Heart Association published a statement supporting an association between gum disease and heart disease. However, it has poured cold water on the idea that poor oral health does contribute to atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), heart disease or stroke.

Earlier this week, researchers at the University of Florida have discovered that the same bacteria that cause gum disease also promote heart disease.

“Our hope is that the American Heart Association will acknowledge causal links between oral disease and increased heart disease. That will change how physicians diagnose and treat heart disease patients," says Irina M. Velsko, a graduate student in the University’s College of Medicine, who presented the data.

Understanding the importance of treating gum disease in patients with heart disease will lead to future studies and recommendations for careful attention to oral health in order to protect patients against heart disease.

In the study, the researchers infected mice with four specific bacteria (Porphyromonas gingivalis, Treponema denticola, Tannerella forsythia, Fusobacterium nucleatum) that cause gum disease and tracked their spread.

Once the bacteria were detected in the mouse gums, heart and aorta, researchers saw an increase in risk factors, including cholesterol and inflammation, associated with heart disease.

This study was part of a larger study on the effects of gum disease on overall health being conducted by Dr. Kesavalu Lakshmyya at University of Florida’s Department of Periodontology.

“The mouth is the gateway to the body and our data provides one more piece of a growing body of research that points to direct connections between oral health and systemic health,” Dr. Kesavalu added.

Cardiologist Dr. Alexandra Lucas, a co-investigator of the research, said: “Our intent is to increase physician awareness of links between oral bacterial infection and heart disease.”

According to the World Health Organization severe cases of gum disease that may result in tooth loss, is found in 15–20% of middle-aged (35-44 years) adults.

“Understanding the importance of treating gum disease in patients with heart disease will lead to future studies and recommendations for careful attention to oral health in order to protect patients against heart disease.”

Gum disease is caused by bacteria that grow on the teeth, under the gums and the bone supporting the teeth. The initial stages of gum disease are often asymptomatic; many adults may have the disease and not know it. This is why proper oral hygiene and regular dental check-ups are important.

According to the World Health Organization severe cases of gum disease that may result in tooth loss, is found in 15–20% of middle-aged (35-44 years) adults.

Researchers have presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.