Cholesterol Rx May Fight Gum Disease

Statins to lower cholesterol may decrease gum inflammation as well

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Studies have shown a link between gum disease and heart disease; both are driven by inflammation. Now it seems that link also may extend to treatments for heart problems — statins, which lower cholesterol, may help reduce gum inflammation.

The American Heart Association says that there is no definitive evidence that proves gum disease causes heart disease or that treating gum disease reduces the risk of a heart condition.

Still, research has found a link between the two diseases, and a new report adds evidence to this association, finding that statins decreased the swelling of periodontal (gum) disease.

"Maintain oral hygiene to keep up overall health."

Ahmed Tawkol, MD, codirector of the Cardiac Imaging Trials Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, coauthored this study.

He and his colleagues assigned 83 men and women with atherosclerosis (clogged arteries) or a high risk of heart disease to receive either 80 milligrams or 10 milligrams of atorvastatin (brand name Lipitor). Participants were ages 30 to 80.

Patients were scanned using PET and CT imaging before treatment began and then at four and 12 weeks to assess both periodontal disease and inflammation in the arteries.

In the 59 individuals who were included in the final analysis, the researchers observed a significant reduction in gum inflammation in patients taking the high-dose statin. Those who showed improvement in their periodontitis also had corresponding improvement in their atherosclerosis.

For PET scanning, investigators used the imaging agent fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG), which is taken up or absorbed into the tissue and cells, allowing researchers to view inside the body. In this study, FDG uptake was greater in patients who had had loss of alveolar bone, which anchors the gums.

The authors noted a significant reduction in periodontal FDG uptake after 12 weeks of treatment with high- versus low-dose atorvastatin, signaling a positive effect of the cholesterol medicine on gum disease and bone condition.

“Statins have beneficial effects beyond their lipid-lowering properties," Dr. Tawakol said in a press release. "Physicians should take this into consideration when discussing antihyperlipidemic treatment [promoting the reduction of lipid levels] options with their patients.”

He also stressed that patients with heart disease and stroke should speak with their physicians about any significant gum disease, and suggested the possibility that following proper oral hygiene may decrease inflammation of the gums and lead to reduced inflammation of the arteries.

Dana Fort, DDS, a practicing dentist in Hinsdale, Illinois, told dailyRx News, "Although this study doesn't prove a cause and effect relationship between periodontitis and heart disease, it is important to remember that oral health is vital to overall health. The mouth is connected to the body. Any infection in the mouth can effect the overall systemic health of an individual."

This study was published in October in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Merck & Co., Inc. provided funding for the study.

Review Date: 
October 10, 2013
Last Updated:
October 11, 2013