A new study in mice adds more weight to the link between heart disease and gum disease.
For the study, researchers infected mice with four kinds of bacteria that are known to cause gum disease. Once the bacteria had been carried into the hearts and aortas of the mice, they measured levels of known heart risk factors -- such as cholesterol and inflammation -- and found increases in the levels of these risk factors.
"In Western medicine there is a disconnect between oral health and general health in the rest of the body; Dentistry is a separate field of study from Medicine. 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," study researcher Kesavalu Lakshmyya, of the University of Florida’s Department of Periodontology, said in a statement.
The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology; because they have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, they should be considered preliminary.
The mice used in the study were specially engineered to be able to develop severe periodontal disease, so that they could serve as a model for the disease. The bacteria the mice were infected with were Porphyromonas gingivalis, Treponema denticola, Tannerella forsythia and Fusobacterium nucleatum; they were all infected orally.
According to the American Heart Association, there is not yet conclusive evidence proving a causal link between periodontal disease and heart disease. The two conditions share many risk factors -- such as smoking and age -- and they both promote inflammation, the AHA says.
"Keeping teeth and gums healthy is important for your overall health, but current data don't conclusively indicate whether regular brushing and flossing or treatment of gum disease can cut the incidence of atherosclerosis, the narrowing of the arteries that can cause heart attacks and strokes," according to a 2012 AHA statement.
However, the researchers say that this new finding suggests that there is a potential causal relationship between periodontal disease and heart disease.