Gum disease and heart disease: The common thread – Harvard

A topical liquid that helps resolve artery inflammation? To explore the connections between oral and heart health, Dr. Hasturk and her colleagues used rabbits fed cholesterol-rich diets as a model to mimic human heart disease. Some of the rabbits were then infected with bacteria known to cause periodontal disease. Those rabbits developed atherosclerotic plaques that were less stable (and therefore more likely to cause a heart attack) and also had higher blood levels of inflammation than the rabbits that had not been exposed to the gum disease bacteria. Next, the researchers treated the rabbits with an oral topical liquid that contained resolvins, which are molecules derived from omega-3 fatty acids believed to help quell inflammation. The treatment not only prevented periodontal disease in the infected rabbits, but also lowered inflammation and atherosclerosis. The findings highlight the potential connection between the two conditions, says Dr. Alpdogan Kantarci, a colleague of Dr. Hasturk’s at the Forsyth Institute who was involved in the research. “If you can control one type of inflammation, you might be able to control another,” he says. A study testing a related compound called lipoxin in people with gum disease is currently under way.

To date, there’s no proof that treating gum disease will prevent cardiovascular disease or its complications. But the connection is compelling enough that dentists (and many doctors) say it’s yet another reason to be vigilant about preventing gum disease in the first place.

Daily toothbrushing and flossing can prevent and even reverse an early stage of gum disease, known as gingivitis. If your dentist says you have gingivitis, ask for a brushing and flossing demonstration to make sure you’re doing both correctly, says Dr. Hasturk. Many people don’t spend enough time or care when brushing (the recommended duration is two minutes). Flossing sweeps away the sticky film between teeth that leads to plaque buildup. Twice-yearly cleanings by a dentist or hygienist are also advisable.

Left untreated, gingivitis can turn into periodontal disease (see “Signs of gum disease”). The gums become loose around the root of the tooth, creating a gum pocket that gradually deepens. Eventually, the infection and inflammation can cause the tooth to loosen and possibly fall out.

Signs of gum disease

Any of these signs can be a clue that you have periodontal disease:

swollen, red, or tender gums gums that bleed easily
pus between the teeth and gums
bad breath buildup of hard brown deposits along the gum line
loose teeth or teeth that are moving apart
changes in the way dental appliances fit.

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