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Jan 28, 2016

Gum Disease Linked to Increased Risk for Heart Attack

Inflammation associated with gum disease is likely to blame, but further research is needed to understand the relationship.

Gum disease increases risk for heart attack by nearly 50%, according to a recent study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

Known as the PAROKRANK study (Periodontitis and its Relation to Coronary Artery Disease), this study tested the link between gum disease and heart attack risk. Gum disease is an inflammation of the gums that affects the bone that surrounds and supports the teeth. According to a 2012 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gum disease affects nearly half of American adults over the age of 30.

However, this common condition doesn’t just affect the teeth and gums. Many studies have linked gum disease to heart disease, likely due to its inflammatory properties. Just as gum disease causes inflammation of the gums, heart disease is associated with inflammation of the heart’s arteries, leading many to wonder whether gum inflammation triggers or worsens heart disease, or vice versa.

To further our understanding of gum disease and heart health, the PAROKRANK study compared the gum health of patients with and without a history of heart attack. Among more than 1,600 Swedish adults included in the study, half suffered a heart attack between 2010 and 2014. The other half were otherwise healthy patients part of a national Swedish registry. In addition to collecting information about participants’ health and lifestyle, researchers conducted dental exams on each participant during the study period.

Overall, researchers found that gum disease was significantly more common in heart attack patients than healthy adults. Approximately 43% of heart attack patients had gum disease, while gum disease affected only 33% of healthy adults. After analysis, researchers found that individuals with gum disease were 49% more likely to have a heart attack than those without.

As authors explain, these findings strengthen the possibility of a relationship between gum disease and heart disease. Many studies have now linked gum disease to increased risk for heart disease and it’s likely that inflammation is to blame. However, authors point out that findings do not confirm whether gum disease actually causes heart disease. There is a clear link between the two, as this study suggests, but further research is needed to better understand the relationship between gum disease and heart health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How does inflammation increase cardiovascular risk?

  • The exact role that inflammation plays in cardiovascular health remains unclear. However, experts suggest that the build-up of plaque in the arteries may cause inflammation, and as the body continually attacks these fatty deposits, it can wear the body down and/or cause blood clots—one of the most common causes of heart attack and stroke.
  • What is the connection between gum disease and heart disease?
  • It’s not completely clear. Scientists don’t know whether gum disease actually causes cardiovascular disease. It’s possible that something else is causing both problems. One theory is that bacteria from diseased gums invade the artery wall and cause inflammation to erupt there too. The bacteria may also provoke the body to release several chemicals that cause inflammation in the arteries.

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