In a recent study presented during American Society for Microbiology Annual Meeting, a team of researchers from The University of Florida showed that the bacteria that causes gum disease is also a promoter of heart disease. The findings could mean a switch from the traditional methods of diagnosing and treating heart disease.
“We report evidence that introduction of oral bacteria into the bloodstream in mice increased risk factors for atherosclerotic heart disease. Our hope is that the American Heart Association will acknowledge causal links between oral disease and increased heart disease. That will change how physicians diagnose and treat heart disease patients,” said Irina M. Velsko, a graduate student in the University of Florida’s College of Medicine, who presented the data.
In North America, heart disease is the leading cause of death. Estimates show that 46% of the United States population are also affected by gum disease, a condition caused by bacteria that grow on the teeth under the gums.
It is widely recognized in the medical community that patients affected by gum disease are at an increased risk for heart disease, however gum disease is not currently considered a risk factor for heart disease.
The American Heart Association stated in 2012 that there is an association between heart disease and gum disease, however, it is not considered a causality.
In this new study, the team of scientists gave to mice four different bacteria (Treponema denticola, Tannerella forsythia, Porphyromonas gingivalis, Fusobacterium nucleatum), all known to cause gum disease. The researchers then tracked the bacteria spread, and once the bacteria were identified in the mice hearts, aortas and gums, the scientists observed an increase in cholesterol and inflammation — known heart disease risk factors.
The study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, is part of a larger study looking at the impact of gum disease on overall health. This larger study is being conducted by a team of researchers led by Kesavalu Lakshmyya in a laboratory at the University of Florida’s Department of Periodontology in the College of Dentistry.
“In Western medicine there is a disconnect between oral health and general health in the rest of the body; Dentistry is a separate field of study from Medicine. The mouth is the gateway to the body and our data provides one more piece of a growing body of research that points to direct connections between oral health and systemic health,” said Kesavalu.
“Our intent is to increase physician awareness of links between oral bacterial infection and heart disease. Understanding the importance of treating gum disease in patients with heart disease will lead to future studies and recommendations for careful attention to oral health in order to protect patients against heart disease,” said in the news release cardiologist Alexandra Lucas of the University of Florida, College of Medicine, who is a co-investigator in the research.