Recent research suggests that there is likely underlying systemic inflammation present long before symptoms of heart disease present themselves.
In a study published in Atherosclerosis, a research team from Germany sought to better understand how periodontal disease—a major cause of inflammation in humans—may influence atherosclerotic vascular disease over an extended period of time.
Atherosclerotic vascular disease, or atherosclerosis, is the narrowing and hardening of the arteries, which restricts blood flow and is the primary cause of heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease. Inflammation—the most notorious villain in all of healthcare—plays a significant role in the both periodontal disease and atherosclerosis.
The research team came to several conclusions:
- Periodontal disease and atherosclerosis influence each other, as both are inflammatory conditions that provoke the release of pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines.
- Periodontal pathogens were found in atherosclerotic lesions and thrombi.
- There is a clear association between periodontal disease and ten-year risk of atherosclerosis.
- Genetic factors appear to influence both atherosclerosis and periodontal disease
- Treatment of periodontal disease can improve cardiovascular risk factors, including endothelial function
- Managing LDL through statins helps prevent or improve periodontal disease.
The mouth is the portal of entry for most of the pathogenic bacteria that affect our health and a location for potential infections that affect us adversely. That there is a relationship between periodontal disease and atherosclerosis is not new; however, this study, which further defines the common pathogenic mechanisms behind both periodontal disease and atherosclerosis, is certainly significant. If periodontal disease increases a person’s risk of developing atherosclerosis over the next ten years, how many lives could be improved (or even saved) by advanced, pathogen-directed treatment?
Though the researchers were reticent to call the relationship between periodontal disease and atherosclerosis causal, there is little doubt that the association is important for any person wishing to reduce his or her risk of heart disease.