The relationship between oral health and heart health is one of the most firmly established oral/systemic links. We’ve been aware of it for over half a century, in fact. But even though the jury is still out as to whether one causes the other, science continues to highlight how they influence each other.
As this year’s American Heart Month gets underway, let’s take a look at some of those highlights.
Gum Disease & Afib
One new study looked at gum disease and atrial fibrillation (Afib), an irregular – and often very fast – heartbeat that can lead to blood clots in the heart, raising the risk of stroke, heart failure, and other problems.
Seventy-six cardiac patients took part. Each underwent an oral exam to determine their periodontal health. Each also had their left atrial appendage (LAA) – a small outgrowth of the heart’s left atrium – surgically removed to reduce their risk of Afib. The condition of each LAA was evaluated, as well.
The research team found that “the worse the periodontitis, the worse the fibrosis, suggesting that the inflammation of gums may intensify inflammation and disease in the heart.”
“This study provides basic evidence that periodontitis can aggravate atrial fibrosis and can be a novel modifiable risk factor for atrial fibrillation,” said corresponding author Yukiko Nakano, professor of cardiovascular medicine in Hiroshima University’s Graduate School of Biomedical and Health Sciences.
“Modifiable” means able to be changed, and that’s a concept we’ll return to shortly
Gum Disease & Heart Disease
Other recent studies more broadly confirm this mouth/body link. One out of Norway involved more than 2600 older participants from one year of an ongoing cardiovascular survey called the Tromsø Study. None had previously experienced a heart attack or stroke. Researchers determined each patient’s level of periodontal health and cardiovascular risk.
Compared to those with healthier gums, those with the moderate to severe periodontitis were found to be at higher risk of heart problems. This confirmed what earlier studies have shown, as did a similar study using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
This time, the data came from over 2800 American adults who had each undergone a home interview plus a periodontal exam to check for gum disease. Cardiovascular disease “was defined as the composite of coronary artery disease and stroke.” Gum disease was quite prevalent. Just over 25% had severe periodontitis, while 57.4% had moderate gum disease.
Once again, those with severe periodontitis were found more likely to have heart disease compared to those with healthier gums.
Can Periodontal Treatment Improve Heart Health?
And that brings us to the $64,000 question: Does periodontal treatment improve heart health? It’s a question at the foundation of a 2022 thesis out of Umeå University in Sweden, which explored previous studies on the matter.
Eleven studies met the authors’ criteria to be included. Altogether, they noted several biological markers that have been associated with both periodontal and heart health: cholesterol, LDL, HDL, C-reactive protein, and cytokines.
Every single one of those 11 studies showed significant improvement in at least one of those markers.
We have found that successful treatment of periodontitis decreases systemic risk markers that are associated with increased risk for CVD.
In our holistic view, treatment involves much more than regular “deep cleanings” or other in-office treatments. It includes your taking action, too, such as shifting to a nutrient-rich, low carb, anti-inflammatory diet or enhancing your home hygiene with things like oral irrigation and oil pulling in addition to the usual brushing and flossing. It includes things like sleeping better, moving more, and managing stress.
And it means coming in to see us regularly, as well, for cleanings that incorporate advanced tools such as ozone and lasers to help your gums heal and return to good health so your mouth better supports good overall health.