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Hand to Heart: Study Links Periodontal Disease to Atherosclerosis

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Study Links Periodontal Disease to Atherosclerosis

Hand to Heart: Study Links Periodontal Disease to Atherosclerosis

February 22, 2005
By: Jean Johnson for Dental1

Our hearts have always known what our hands were doing, but now a study connects the dots between the two in clear, if not very clean, lines. It’s all about brushing our teeth – or not brushing them very well. All about the relationship between chronic inflammation of the gums and the thickening of the artery walls.
Take Action
Other Ways to Prevent Atherosclerosis:
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Avoid smoking cigarettes
  • Get treatment for disorders such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, all of which can cause plaque to build up in the arteries.
  • Eat a diet that is low in saturated fats and cholesterol and rich in whole grains, fiber, fruits, and leafy vegetables.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes every day. Make resistance training or weight lifting part of your regular exercise regime.


  • Which comes first – questionable gum health or hardening of the arteries? The lead researcher in the study can’t say just yet. Epidemiologist at New York City’s Columbia University, Dr. Moise Desvarieux, said he needs to follow the progression of his 657 subjects, New Yorkers who represent several major ethnic groups and are 55 years and older with no history of heart attack or stroke.

    It’s not news that infections in one part of the body can spread to other areas. Similarly, researchers have known for some time that there are connections between periodontal or gum and bone health and cardiovascular disease. Still, Desvarieux’s study published in the February 2005 issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association draws a direct link between bacteria associated with periodontal disease and a thickening of the arterial walls.

    Low grade infections of the gums known as gingivitis are usually caused by poor oral hygiene and lead to inflammation and bleeding. If untreated, plaque and resulting bacteria become what are known in the profession as chronic periodontal disease. This infection and inflammation in the ligaments and bone that support the teeth is a major cause of tooth loss in adults.

    Desvarieux, of course, qualified his results. In addition to not speculating on whether atherosclerosis or periodontitis comes first, he said “there is no guarantee that treating periodontal disease would reverse it, because the damage might be preventable but not reversible.”

    Thus, the heart’s message to the hand is what it’s always been. Get with the program and don’t shirk. Day dream or whatever we need to do, but brush the full two minutes and take care along the gum lines. Then floss with intention – with stokes that run below the gums and hug close to surfaces of the tooth that the brush can’t reach.
    Learn More
    For a Clean Mouth

    1. Floss: Use floss to remove particles between upper and lower teeth

    2. Rinse: After flossing, rinse with water

    3.Brush: Use fluoride toothpaste and brush teeth in a circular motion applying pressure but not too vigorously

    4. Rinse: After brushing, rinse with water

    5. Brush: Using a little more toothpaste, brush your tongue


    6. Rinse: After brushing your tongue, rinse with water or mouthwash for a clean, fresh mouth



    From her bicycle on a balmy Portland day in February, Arghelis Rosario smiles and reveals straight white teeth. At 5 feet and 100 pounds, she seems far from being at risk for cardiovascular problems.

    “Even if it turns out that infection comes to the teeth from the arteries instead of the reverse,” said 30 year old Rosario, “we still can’t go wrong with good brushing. I had some gingivitis a few years back and after my dentist brought it to my attention, I’ve been more diligent. Now, knowing I might helping my heart at the same time, I feel even better.”

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