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Dental, heart health linked in study

November 5, 2013
by Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor
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More proof of the importance of encouraging residents to brush their teeth and assist those who need help to do so: A new study finds that people may be able to prevent heart disease by treating their gums right—brushing, flossing and seeing a dentist regularly.

Researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health have found that, as gum health improves, progression of atherosclerosis slows. Their findings appear online in the Journal of the American Heart Association (AHA).

"These results are important because atherosclerosis progressed in parallel with both clinical periodontal disease and the bacterial profiles in the gums. This is the most direct evidence yet that modifying the periodontal bacterial profile could play a role in preventing or slowing both diseases," says Moïse Desvarieux, MD, PhD, lead author of the paper and associate professor of epidemiology at the school.

The researchers examined 420 adults (mean age: 68 years) for periodontal infection and analyzed plaque samples from their teeth and plaque and fluid samples from their gums for periodontal disease-related bacteria or a marker of inflammation. They also measured atherosclerosis in both carotid arteries using high-resolution ultrasound.

"Our results show a clear relationship between what is happening in the mouth and thickening of the carotid artery, even before the onset of full-fledged periodontal disease," says co-author Panos N. Papapanou, DDS, PhD, professor of dental medicine at Columbia University's College of Dental Medicine, whose laboratory assessed the bacterial profiles in the gums. "This suggests that incipient periodontal disease should not be ignored."

The results build on previous findings and “address a gap identified in the AHA statement on periodontal disease and atherosclerosis, by providing longitudinal data supporting this association," says study co-author Ralph Sacco, MD, professor and chairman of neurology at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine and former president of the AHA.

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