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Oral Health May Contribute To Heart Health, Study Suggests

Posted February 25, 2006

— So, you're exercising more and eating healthier, but if you really want to cut your risk for heart disease, consider seeing a dentist.

New research from Columbia University School of Public Health reinforces doctors' longstanding hypothesis that periodontal disease, a severe inflammation of the gums, may be linked to cardiovascular disease.

Researchers wanted to know if bacteria from gum disease travel from the mouth to other organs, or cause inflammation in the arteries.

"We're very careful to be sure of what we're seeing, that it's not simply a manifestation of two diseases that have common risk factors," said Dr. Moise Desvarieux, an epidemiologist who is conducting the study.

Desvarieux wanted to know if one disease might contribute to the other.

Researchers looked at three forms of bacteria common in patients with gum disease and found that patients with one or any combination of the three bacteria also had hardening of the arteries.

Past research found many patients with signs of gum disease also have risk factors for heart attack and stroke.

"But what's interesting about the recent findings is that we're starting to focus on the bacteria that can cause these oral conditions and their relationship to overall systemic health," said UNC periodontist Dr. David Paquette.

Paquette said it is too early to know if treating gum disease lowers the risk of heart disease, but gum disease may be a risk factor for heart disease -- one that can be prevented.

In other words, brush, floss and see your dentist regularly.

"If you have a healthy mouth, chances are you have a healthy body," Paquette said.

The study is in its fifth year and includes more than 1,000 participants. Researchers are looking forward to more conclusive results in about five years.

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