February is American Heart Month, so we thought now would be a good time to go over how your dental health could affect your heart health. More and more research is pointing to a connection between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease. While the jury is still out regarding what exactly is the cause behind the connection, several possibilities have risen to the surface.
As we already know, periodontal disease is mostly caused by bacteria. In one study, researchers tested for the presence of eight varieties of oral bacteria. They found the risk of heart attack was related significantly to three of those types: B. forsythus, P. gingivalis and C. recta. Depending on the concentration of any of those three bacteria types, the increased risk of heart attack ranged from 200-300%, when compared to people with no evidence of the bacteria.
Another study looked at a different angle. Researchers found periodontal disease increases blood levels of fibrinogen, a clotting factor, and C-reactive protein (CRP), a well known inflammatory. They also found increased cholesterol levels in patients with periodontal disease. The inflammatory property of CRP has been shown to increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. Another study found patients with the highest levels of CRP were three times more likely to eventually suffer a heart attack, and two times more likely to suffer a stroke. The bacteria flourishing in gum pockets of patients with periodontal disease circulates through the bloodstream and appears to trigger the liver to create CRP. And patients with more severe periodontal disease tended to have higher levels of CRP.
A study published in Circulation reported a connection between thicker carotid arteries and higher levels of the bacteria that causes periodontal disease. As we all know, a thickening of the arteries is often a precursor to heart attack or stroke. Another study published in the Journal of Periodontology found periodontal disease appears to worsen the severity of coronary artery disease.
So no matter what’s behind the connection, it’s a good idea to avoid periodontal disease. If you already have periodontal disease, it’s vita you get it under control and that begins with regular visits to our office.