Acquire the license to the best health content in the world
Contact Us

Can Heart Disease Be Found by Saying Ahhh?

Mouse study ties oral infections, but some experts are dubious

SATURDAY, Sept. 28, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Could flossing save your life?

Researchers say a study in mice is adding ammunition to the theory that gum disease can threaten heart health by flooding the body with dangerous germs that can cause arteries to clog.

"Our findings indicate that one contributing factor to heart disease is oral infection with a bacteria that causes gum disease," said study co-author Caroline Attardo Genco, an associate professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine.

But the findings conflict with those published in a dental journal last year, and an epidemiologist warned that there may not be a simple cause-and-effect relationship between gum disease and heart disease.

For a decade, scientists have studied a possible connection between gum disease and clogged arteries. In gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, the gums become infected by bacteria and can lead to the loss of teeth.

"Oral bacteria can easily enter the bloodstream and eventually can make it to the heart," Genco said. "Once the bacteria arrive, they can activate an inflammatory response in the heart and ultimately build up atherosclerotic plaque that leads to heart disease."

In her study, released today at the annual Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in San Diego, a group of six-week-old male mice were infected with bacteria that cause gum disease.

The mice were later killed, examined, and compared to normal mice. Those that were infected with the strongest strain of gum disease were more likely to develop clogged arteries, which can lead to heart disease and heart attacks.

The findings suggest that gum disease can contribute to heart disease, Genco said. "They also stress the importance of good oral health to overall systemic health."

She added that current research into a possible vaccine against gum disease may help reduce the rates of heart disease in people.

But a study of medical records published in the Journal of the American Dental Association in July 2001 found no evidence that eliminating gum disease would lower a person's risk of heart disease. The study authors said dentists shouldn't promote treatment of gum disease by saying it would improve heart health.

Frank Myers, an epidemiologist with Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, said it would be difficult to link gum disease to heart disease. A poor diet can cause gum disease, but it may also contribute to heart disease on its own, making it difficult to determine which was the cause, he added.

Also, he said, a chronic infection can stress the body, raising a question of which factor causes clogged arteries -- the infection or the stress.

What To Do

Learn more about gum disease from the American Dental Association.

The American Academy of Periodontology suspects there is a link between gum disease and heart problems.

SOURCES: Caroline Attardo Genco, Ph.D., associate professor, department of medicine, Section of Infectious Diseases, Boston University School of Medicine; Frank Myers, C.I.C., epidemiologist, Scripps Mercy Hospital, San Diego; Sept. 28, 2002, presentation, Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, San Diego
Consumer News