Exciting work out of the University of Florida has made great strides in understanding the relationship between oral health and heart disease. It has been known for quite some time that a link existed between the two, but scientists have struggled to identify the exact connection. According to a recent Medical News Today article, researchers have discovered that the same bacteria known to cause gum disease also promotes heart disease. Such a discovery has the potential to change how heart disease is diagnosed and treated worldwide.
The research was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, by a graduate student in the University of Florida’s College of Medicine, Irina M. Velsko. She announced that researchers found evidence that when oral bacteria were introduced into the bloodstream of mice, the risk factors for atherosclerotic heart disease increased. Once the bacteria was found in the gums, heart and aorta of the mice, they also found increases in risk factors such as cholesterol and inflammation. The team also stated that they hope that the “American Heart Association will acknowledge causal links between oral disease and increased heart disease,” thus changing how physicians diagnose and treat patients. In 2012, the American Heart Association released a statement supporting the association between gum disease and heart disease, but not a causal one.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, and nearly half of the population is affected by bacteria-caused gum disease. This particular study is only part of a larger project on the relationship between oral health and general health being conducted by University of Florida’s Department of Periodontology in the College of Dentistry. Funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, it is being led by Kesavalu Lakshmyya. The intent of the study is raising awareness of the links between oral bacterial infection and heart disease, hopefully underlining the importance of treating gum disease in patients suffering from heart disease. According to Kesavalu, “the mouth is the gateway to the body and our data provides one more piece of a growing body of research that points to direct connections between oral health and systemic health.”