Heart Disease and Oral Health
For years, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and smoking have been known to be risk factors for heart attack. Yet, nearly a third of people suffering heart attacks do not have any of these risk factors. New research now suggests that periodontal disease may be a factor in the development of heart attacks.
Studies have shown that the risk of heart disease is twice as high in people suffering with periodontal disease. A recent study at the University of North Carolina revealed that 85 percent of heart attack victims had periodontal disease, while only 29 percent of the healthy people in the study suffered from periodontal disease. . What would explain a potential link between periodontal disease and heart attacks?
Periodontal disease represents a bacterial infection of the gums, bones and ligaments supporting the teeth. Often bacteria enter the bloodstream through damaged blood vessels that course through the gums. In the lab, researchers have shown that one of these organisms, P.gingivalis causes blood components, called platelets, to clump together. Such clumping inside blood vessels could produce clots that could travel to the heart, causing a heart attack.
Another theory suggests that the body’s inflammatory response to periodontal disease produces inflammatory molecules. Because of the long-term nature of periodontal disease, over time these inflammatory molecules could promote atherogenesis (narrowing of the arteries), a condition that greatly increases the chances of a heart attack.
While research shows a potential link between periodontal disease and the risk of heart attack, it cannot be automatically assumed that periodontal disease directly increases the risk of heart attacks. Some, for example, suggest that a lack of dietary folic acid could simultaneously increase risk of both periodontal disease and heart attack. Additional studies are being conducted to determine if periodontal disease directly increases the risk of heart attack and whether treatment of periodontal disease reduces the risk of having a heart attack.