Treat Gum Disease, Help Heart?

Intensive Treatment of Gum Disease May Yield Healthier Blood Vessels

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on February 28, 2007

Feb. 28, 2007 -- In people with gum disease, intensive treatment may benefit blood vessels as well as their gums.

That's according to a study of 120 people with severe gum disease, also called periodontitis. In periodontitis, gums recede and teeth can loosen as their support weakens.

Other studies have shown a possible link between poor oral health and heart disease risk, possibly due to bacteria or inflammation from the gum disease.

So having healthy teeth and gums may be good for your heart.

This study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, comes from the University of Connecticut's Maurizio Tonetti, DMD, PhD, along with colleagues in London.

About the Study

Patients studied were on average 47 years old and overweight but not obese. Most were white men.

Nearly a third were current smokers, and 30% were former smokers.

First, patients provided blood samples and took tests to see how much the inner lining (endothelium) of their arm's brachial artery would widen (dilate).

A healthy endothelium means better endothelial dilation, which means better blood flow. Poor endothelial function may be an early warning sign of heart disease, note the researchers.

Next, patients were randomly split into two groups.

One group got standard gum disease treatment -- having a dentist scrape and polish their teeth.

The other group got more aggressive treatment, including a shot of anesthesia to let dentists remove plaque below the gum line and extract teeth, if necessary.

Lastly, the patients provided more blood samples and repeated the endothelial function tests periodically for six months following treatment.

Study's Results

One day after gum disease treatment, patients in the intensive treatment group had higher levels of inflammatory chemicals in their blood and worse endothelial function than those who received standard care.

But two months later, the intensive treatment group had better endothelial function than the standard treatment group. That advantage was still seen at the end of the six-month study.

Intensive treatment of gum disease may briefly boost inflammation and curb endothelial function, but it appears to be better for the endothelium in the long run, the researchers say.

"Six months after therapy, the benefits in oral health were associated with improvement in endothelial function," they write.

It's not clear if the findings apply to people with less severe gum disease or those with other heart health risk factors.

Show Sources

SOURCE: Tonetti, M. The New England Journal of Medicine, March 1, 2007; vol 356: pp 911-920.

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