Don't let your Mouth Pollute your Clean Heart
May 20, 2005 - 1:02:38 PM

Researchers have found evidence that the amount of bacteria in subgingival plaques, the deep plaques in periodontal pockets and around the teeth, may contribute to an individual's risk of a heart attack, according to two studies appearing the Journal of Periodontology. These studies further researchers understanding that periodontal bacteria may increase the risk for heart disease.

In one study researchers looked at 150 individuals with periodontal diseases and found that the total number of periodontal bacteria in subgingival plaques was higher in individuals that have suffered from an acute myocardial infarction (heart attack). The second study found that the same DNA from different kinds of periodontal bacteria in plaque was also in the patients' heart arteries. Researchers believe that these findings may help substantiate what they have long known; if there is a sterile pathway, such as a bloodstream, near a periodontally infected area that the bacteria from this infected area cause inflammation in the gums that opens up pores in the surrounding blood vessels, which enables the bacteria to enter the bloodstream and travel to other parts of the body and cause great harm.

"It is like setting up a garbage dump on the edge of a river. You wouldn't be surprised if the lake downstream ended up polluted with the garbage from the dump," said Vincent J. Iacono, DMD and president of the American Academy of Periodontology. "A patient's bloodstream acts very much like the river in this analogy, in that it carries the bacteria from the periodontal plaques, possibly 'polluting' the arteries of the heart with periodontal bacteria, causing inflammation of the arteries which may lead to a heart attack. This potential effect of periodontal bacteria further supports the need for periodic deep cleanings to enhance overall health and wellbeing."

These studies represent two in a large body of research that investigates the possible link between periodontal diseases and other systemic conditions such as heart disease. "Intervention data is not available to prove a causal relationship between the two. Right now we are currently advising patients that maintaining good periodontal health can only help not hurt," said Iacono.

Another study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society said that elderly persons with active root caries, a type of tooth decay, have an increased risk of having irregular heart beats.

A total of 125 generally healthy individuals over the age of 80, living in urban, community-based populations were examined. Researchers discovered that persons with three or more active root caries had more than twice the odds of cardiac arrhythmias of those without. Researchers indicate that root caries may be a marker of general physical decline in the elderly and specifically underscore the mouth as an integral part of the body.

"The findings make a strong case for the active assessment of and attention to oral problems for the older community-dwelling population," states Poul Holm-Pedersen, lead author of the study. Because arrhythmias can signify other possibly undiagnosed diseases in older people, researchers stress the importance of taking dental diseases seriously.

The advanced age of those who participated in the study may have been a factor in determining an association between overall periodontal disease and arrhythmia since those who might have been strong examples of this association may not have survived to age 80.

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