Healthy Smile, Healthy Heart

Health Files
By: Sharon Adams

Brushing and flossing doesn’t just prevent tooth loss – it may also be important to preventing heart disease.

US researchers have found evidence that bacteria associated with gum disease plays a role in plaque formation in blood vessels in people exposed to the bacteria for a long time.

For years it’s been known there’s an association between periodontal (gum) disease and heart disease, and this research, which appeared in the Journal of Periodontology in December, sheds new light on the connection.

The research team at Howard University in Washington, DC, made up of periodontologists, stroke specialists and researchers looking for causes of diseases, analyzed 11 earlier studies that had looked into the connection betweeen gum and heart disease.  They looked for presence of two particular bacteria assocated with gum disease in the studies’ subjects, how much of it there was, as well as evidence the whole body had responded to bacterial exposure.

Periodontal disease is a bacterial infection that destroys the fibres and bone that hold teeth in the mouth.  The gums seperate from the teeth, forming pockets that fill with plaque and even more bacteria.  Earlier research established that as people chew, toxic bacterial components are released that enter the bloodstream.  This triggers the liver to make infection-fighting C-reactive protein.

Presence of C-reactive protein is evidence the body has responded to a remote infection.  It’s also a predictor of increased risk of cardiovascular disease.  Rises in C-reactive protein can be measured years before a diagnosis of heart disease.  Levels decrease when periodontal infection is treated.

Periodontal disease affects one in three of those over 50; and it’s estimated 10 to 15 per cent of the population has severe infection.  Cardiovascular disease kills more than 75,000 Canadians a year, and accounts for about a third of all deaths.

Meanwhile, people with signs of gum disease – bleeding or red and swollen gums, teeth that seem to be getting longer, loose or sensitive – can reduce their risk with better mouth care.  That includes brushing and flossing more often, use of antiseptic mouthwash, having teeth cleaned regularly, and visiting the dentist more often.


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