Health Gums and Healthy Hearts

Scientists Continue to Explore the Connection

Columbia University recently published the results of an ongoing study looking at the link between gum disease and thickening of the arteries in the heart. Called the Oral Infections and Vascular Disease Epidemiology Study (INVEST), the research team is led by Dr. Moise Descarieux and features dentist Dr. Panos N. Papapanou. Their tests indicate that cleaner teeth lead to cleaner arteries.

How They Made the Connection

The researchers studied thousands of subjects. Examinations of the mouth documented the presence or absence of oral bacteria in the form of plaque. The subjects were then examined via ultrasound to determine the thickness of their arterial walls. A greater level of bacteria on the teeth led to increasing thickness of the carotid arteries, the arteries that bring blood to the heart. In addition to studying patients during a single visit, the researchers also looked at the progression of arterial disease, in connection with gum disease, over time.

Explaining their findings, Dr. Papapanou, professor at Columbia’s College of Dental Medicine, stated the following:

Our results show a clear relationship between what is happening in the mouth and thickening of the carotid artery, even before the onset of full-fledged periodontal disease. This suggests that incipient periodontal disease should not be ignored.”

While the researchers don’t go so far as to say that gingivitis and periodontitis lead to heart attacks and strokes, they do acknowledge that thickening of the arteries is usually an indicator of risk for heart problems.

What is the Connection?

Why does gum disease evidently lead to atherosclerosis and likely heart disease? Human studies are ongoing, but animal studies indicate the probable cause of the connection. The presence of large amounts of oral bacteria activates the body’s immune system. Immune responses typically lead to inflammation, and inflammation generally worsens atherosclerotic arteries. Writer Catherine Paddock of Medical News Today also points to a British study that found a direct link between oral bacteria escaping the mouth to the bloodstream, creating havoc in the arteries.

A Clean Mouth Leads to Clean Arteries

Whatever the actual cause of the connection, all the scientists agree that maintaining good oral hygiene reduces your risk of thickening of the arteries. Preventing gum disease requires two simple steps:

  1. Brushing and flossing your teeth at least twice daily.
  2. Visiting your local dentist at least twice a year for an exam and cleaning.

Your local Carmichael dentist at the Marconi Dental Group is ready to help you fight oral bacteria and maintain your heart health. If you haven’t been to the dentist in the last six months, make your appointment today!

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