Clean Teeth Love a Healthy Heart

Cardiovascular risk factors and poor dental health may be connected

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Taking care of your teeth may provide more benefits than you think. Proper gum and tooth care is not only good for your oral health, but it might help your heart as well.

Several studies have proposed an association between periodontal (gum) disease and coronary heart disease.

While it’s not clear if poor gum health can bring about heart problems, scientists have recently discovered a link between poor oral health (especially tooth loss) and cardiovascular risk factors, including diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure and obesity.

"Brush and floss for a healthy mouth and body."

Ola Vedin, MD, from the Department of Medical Sciences at Uppsala University in Sweden, led the investigation looking into the prevalence of tooth loss and gum bleeds and their relation to cardiovascular risk factors in high-risk patients with coronary heart disease.

Dr. Vedin and her colleagues reviewed information from 15,828 subjects from 39 countries. These participants gave details on their remaining number of teeth and the frequency of gum bleeds.

One out of four subjects in the study reported gum bleeds. About 40 percent had fewer than 15 teeth, and 16 percent had no teeth.

Researcher noted that they were surprised by the large proportion of patients with no or very few teeth.

Scientists observed the fewer teeth in subjects corresponded to rises in cardiac risk factors, such as LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure and waist circumference.

Participants with fewer teeth also had higher probability of having diabetes, with the odds increasing by 11 percent for every decrease in number of teeth category. Teeth categories included: no teeth, one to 14 teeth, 15 to 19 teeth, 20 to 25 teeth or 26 to 32 teeth.

For every drop in the patient tooth count, investigators noted increasing levels of Lp-PLA2, an enzyme that increases inflammation and promotes hardening of the arteries.

Greater loss of teeth was also linked with being a current or former smoker compared to being a non-smoker.

Gum bleeds were connected with higher levels of bad cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as a greater likelihood of being a non-smoker.

Dr. Vedin and her colleagues anticipated somewhat stronger associations between gum bleeding and cardiovascular risk factors.

“Gum bleeding is an early manifestation of periodontal disease, whereas tooth loss represents the final stage,” said Dr. Vedin. “One theory is that patients with gum bleeding but little or no tooth loss have had less and shorter exposure to the processes of periodontitis and have thus developed fewer complications.”

Dr. Vedin cautioned that research has not shown whether periodontal disease actually causes coronary heart disease.

“It could be the two conditions share common risk factors independently,” Dr. Vedin said. “Those who believe that a causal relationship exists propose several theories, including systemic inflammation, the presence of bacteria in the blood from infected teeth and bacteria invading coronary plaques.”

Additional studies are needed to understand how periodontal health may be a useful risk marker for heart disease, according to Dr. Vedin. If future research can confirm a causal relationship, dentists could play an important role in cardiovascular risk assessment.

The study was presented in March at the American College of Cardiology's 62nd Annual Scientific Session in San Francisco. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 14, 2013
Last Updated:
March 17, 2013