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Gum disease and heart disease have a lot in common
27 Jan' 21

Gum disease and heart disease have a lot in common

 

The relationship between plaque on your teeth and plaque in your arteries. 

Researchers have been studying the link between gum disease and cardiovascular health for decades. Gum disease develops when a sticky, bacteria-laden coating known as plaque forms around teeth. Inside arteries, a new sort of plaque can form, consisting of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other blood-borne chemicals. This fatty plaque, also known as atherosclerosis, is the hallmark of coronary artery disease. 
 
Gum disease (also known as periodontal disease) increases the chance of a heart attack, stroke, or another major cardiovascular event by two to three times.
 
However, there may not be a direct link. Many people who have heart illness also have healthy gums, and not everyone who has gum disease also has heart problems. The link could be explained by shared risk factors like smoking or eating an unhealthy diet. Even so, there's a growing belief that gum disease is a separate risk factor for heart disease. 
 
The Inflammation Connection 
Periodontist Dr. Hatice Hasturk of the Harvard-affiliated Forsyth Institute, a non-profit research center focused on oral health, says, "Periodontal illness raises the body's burden of inflammation." Acute inflammation, which involves an influx of immune cells attacking irritants and microbial invaders, promotes the growth of bacteria.
 
In recent years, medical research has focused on reducing chronic inflammation. Dr. Hasturk and colleagues' preliminary study suggests that resolvins, a class of chemicals, could be useful in treating inflammation-related disorders like periodontitis and atherosclerosis (see "A topical liquid that helps resolve arterial inflammation?"). 

Is there a topical liquid that can aid with arterial inflammation? 
Dr. Hasturk and her colleagues employed rabbits fed cholesterol-rich diets as a model to simulate human heart disease in order to investigate the links between oral and cardiovascular health. The rabbits were then infected with microorganisms that induce periodontal disease in some of them.
 
The rabbits were then given an oral topical lotion containing resolvins, which are molecules derived from omega-3 fatty acids that are thought to help reduce inflammation. The therapy not only avoided periodontal disease but also reduced inflammation and atherosclerosis in infected rabbits. According to Dr. Alpdogan Kantarci, a colleague of Dr. Hasturk's at the Forsyth Institute who was engaged in the study, the data point to a possible link between the two illnesses. "You might be able to control another sort of inflammation if you can control one," he says. A study is underway to see if a related molecule called lipoxin can help people with gum disease.
 
Gingivitis is a type of gum disease that can be prevented and even reversed by daily brushing and flossing. If your dentist diagnoses you with gingivitis, Dr. Hasturk recommends getting a brushing and flossing demonstration to ensure you're doing both correctly. When it comes to brushing, many people don't devote enough time or attention (the recommended duration is two minutes). Flossing removes the sticky film that forms between teeth and contributes to plaque accumulation. Cleanings by a dentist or hygienist twice a year are also recommended. 
 
Gingivitis can progress to periodontal disease if left untreated (see "Signs of gum disease"). The gums loosen around the tooth's root, forming a gum pocket that deepens over time.
 
Gum disease symptoms 
 
Any of the following symptoms could indicate that you have periodontal disease: 
 
  • Gums that are swollen, red, or sensitive 
  • Gums that are prone to bleeding 
  • Pus in the space between the teeth and the gums 
  • Stale breath 
  • Along the gum line, there is a buildup of firm brown deposits. 
  • Teeth that are loose or are drifting apart 
  • Alterations in the fit of dental appliances

 

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