For the first time, scientists at University College London (UCL) have demonstrated that an intensive treatment for periodontitis (gum disease) directly improves the health of blood vessels. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, may be important for the prevention of heart attacks and stroke.
Periodontitis is a bacterial infection of the gums, affecting up to 40 per cent of the world's adult population. If untreated, it can cause progressive bone loss around the teeth, and eventual tooth loss.
Previously, scientists had linked such inflammation with the arterial changes that underlie stroke and heart attack. However, this is the first clinical trial to demonstrate that relief of inflammation in the mouth results in improved function of the arteries.
"Elevations in blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as smoking and diabetes, are recognized as the main risk factors for cardiovascular disease... [but] intriguing links have emerged between inflammation and heart disease and so it is important to better understand the nature of this connection, and whether it could lead to the development of new treatments. The current study points to disease of the gums as a potential source of this inflammation," explained study author, UCL's Dr Aroon Hingorani.
How periodontitis affects the blood vessels in the body is still uncertain. Because the gum disease involves a bacterial infection that invades the tissue around the teeth, the researchers speculate that the bacteria disturb endothelial function directly, since some bacteria can enter the bloodstream. Alternatively, the periodontitis might trigger a low grade inflammatory response throughout the body that has a detrimental effect on the vascular wall.
Source: University College London