The truth about gum dis­ease and heart health

THE JURY’S STILL OUT, BUT STUD­IES ARE POINT­ING TO A LINK BE­TWEEN GUM DIS­EASE AND HEART HEALTH. LINDA MU­SIC HELPS YOU BRUSH UP ON THE FACTS

Good Health (Australia) - - Contents -

Over the past few years there has been con­sid­er­able hype about the cor­re­la­tion be­tween gum health and heart dis­ease. Many sci­en­tific stud­ies have shown sig­nif­i­cant cor­re­la­tions, but not ev­ery­one is con­vinced.

‘it may be that hav­ing gum dis­ease is just a marker for in­creased risk of also hav­ing a sys­temic ill­ness’

‘Go­ing to your den­tist won’t fix your heart prob­lems’

The re­search

In 2016 a Swedish study ex­am­ined 805 pa­tients un­der the age of 75 who had suf­fered their first acute my­ocar­dial in­farc­tion (AMI), also known as a heart at­tack. The study also ex­am­ined 805 matched con­trols who had no his­tory of heart prob­lems. Gum dis­ease was more com­mon in pa­tients who had had a heart at­tack than in the con­trol group. In fact, the study con­cluded that there was a 49 per cent in­creased risk of AMI among the pa­tients with pe­ri­odon­ti­tis (gum dis­ease). Even af­ter the re­searchers made ad­just­ments for other vari­ables, such as smok­ing, the risk re­mained sig­nif­i­cantly higher (29 per cent).

While sta­tis­tics like these may have you head­ing straight to your den­tist in the hope of fix­ing your heart, it’s not as sim­ple as that. In 2017, Chi­nese re­searchers looked at 22 re­search stud­ies into the link be­tween gum dis­ease and heart dis­ease. Across the 22 stud­ies, re­sults from a to­tal of 129,630 par­tic­i­pants were an­a­lysed. While the re­search showed gum dis­ease is as­so­ci­ated with an in­creased risk of fu­ture heart dis­ease, a causative re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two could not be es­tab­lished.

The ex­perts

Dr Fritz Heitz, pres­i­dent of the Aus­tralian So­ci­ety of Pe­ri­odon­tol­ogy, agrees. Heitz ar­gues that just be­cause there are sta­tis­ti­cal cor­re­la­tions be­tween the two dis­eases, it does not mean pe­ri­odon­ti­tis causes heart dis­ease or vice versa. Nei­ther does it mean that fix­ing one dis­ease will fix the other.

“Go­ing to your den­tist or a pe­ri­odon­tist won’t fix your heart prob­lems,” says Heitz.

The Aus­tralian and

New Zealand Acad­emy of Pe­ri­odon­tists holds a sim­i­lar view. De­spite re­search show­ing an as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween gum dis­ease and heart dis­ease, they stress the na­ture of this link is not clear. They ex­plain that heart dis­ease could be caused

(at least in part) by gum dis­ease or

“it may be that hav­ing gum dis­ease is just a marker for in­creased risk of also hav­ing a sys­temic ill­ness”.

Heitz says the rea­son gum dis­ease is of­ten seen in peo­ple with heart dis­ease may be be­cause both con­di­tions are in­flam­ma­tory in na­ture.

“Rather than a direct causal link, what I sus­pect is that there may be a third fac­tor that pre­dis­poses you to both dis­eases. That third fac­tor is a pre­dis­po­si­tion to a hyper-in­flam­ma­tory state,” says Heitz. He ex­plains that it isn’t the bac­te­ria di­rectly that cause gum dis­ease but rather how the body re­acts to the pres­ence of these bac­te­ria (see box, right). “It is the body’s own over-ex­citable in­flam­ma­tory re­sponse that causes gum dis­ease,” he ar­gues.

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