The link connecting gum disease and heart disease has been recognized for decades; however, until recently, little was understood about this connection. Because the diseases share many common risk factors such as smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure, it is difficult to confirm a relationship independent of these factors. Many researchers and healthcare professionals have asserted that gum health may also simply be an indicator of overall health and wellbeing. Recent research offers new insight, providing potential explanations independently connecting these diseases.
In 2010, research out of the University of Bristol, in collaboration with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, found evidence suggesting that streptococcus bacteria, which occur naturally in the mouth, may directly impact the heart health of patients with periodontal disease. The naturally occurring bacteria cause infection as they collect in the pockets formed during periodontitis. As the bacteria accumulate and the pockets expand and deepen the bacteria are able to enter the bloodstream.
Once in the bloodstream, the bacteria produce a protein that attracts blood platelets, causing them to clump together. The platelets surround the bacteria, creating a protective casing that shields the bacteria from white blood cells and other immune responses. Scientists suggest that the clumped masses can attach to heart valves, causing atherosclerosis (hardened arteries), form blood clots, or potential inflame blood vessels, restricting blood flow to the heart and brain.
This and similar studies underscore importance for further research into the various mechanisms linking periodontal disease and heart disease. Continued examination of these complex interactions helps develop a clearer understanding of the relationship, subsequently providing better insights into treatment. Until more information is available, proper daily oral hygiene and regular examinations are critical steps towards good oral as well as overall health.
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In April 2012, the American Heart Association released a formal scientific statement in their journal, Circulation, stating that periodontal disease and heart disease are associated independent of common risk factors. The statement formerly recognizes this relationship; however the AHA maintains that more research is required in order to establish grounds for a causal relationship. This statement is supported by American Academy of Periodontology.