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Link Between Oral and Heart Health

While fatty plaque, known as atherolsclerosis, that is the hallmark of coronary artery disease is different from the sticky, bacteria-laden plaque buildup on teeth, Harvard Medical School experts say there is enough compelling evidence to suggest that a potential connection between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease may exist. Although other shared risk factors, such as smoking or an unhealthy diet, might be the reason for the connection, the growing suspicion that gum disease may be an independent risk factor for heart disease has more to do with the link to inflammation.

“Periodontal disease increases the body’s burden of inflammation,” says periodontist Dr. Hatice Hasturk of the Harvard-affiliated Forsyth Institute, a nonprofit research organization focused on oral health. Studies have shown that chronic, long-term inflammation is a major contributor to many health problems, including cancer, Type 2 diabetes and especially atherosclerosis. In addition, a recent study conducted by the researcher Giulia Ferrarini of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm reports a 49 percent increased risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure in the control group suffering from periodontitis. 

To determine whether a link exists between oral and heart health, Husturk and her colleagues conducted research, feeding rabbits cholesterol-rich diets to mimic human heart disease. They then infected some rabbits with a bacteria known to cause periodontal disease. Those rabbits went on to develop more atherosclerotic plaques and higher blood levels of inflammation than the other rabbits, suggesting there is a possible link between periodontal disease and heart disease. 

The good news: Haturk and her team also discovered that a treatment using resolvins—molecules derived from omega-3 fatty acids— lowered inflammation and atherosclerosis in the rabbits. “If you can control one type of inflammation, you might be able to control another,” she says. For this reason, people should work to prevent gum disease in the first place by brushing and flossing daily and getting twice-yearly cleanings by a dentist or hygienist.

Sourced by Dr. Jonathan Richter, DDS, FAGD, owner of Cariodontal, is located at 310 E. Shore Rd., Ste. 101, Great Neck, NY (516-282-0310 /, and Manhattan Oasis Dentistry, 525 West End Ave., Ste. 1G, New York, NY (212-874-2880 /


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