Real Connection Between Oral Health And Heart Disease

ANAHEIM, Calif.-- Reports over the past five years have suggested a link between periodontal (gum) disease and cardiovascular disease. But so far, no clear cause-and-effect relationship has been found. In a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, University of Michigan dentistry Prof. Walter Loesche suggested several possibilities. Loesche spoke during a symposium titled "The Link Between Systemic Conditions and Diseases and Oral Health."

Because evidence of the link has come to light only recently, few studies have looked directly at the mechanisms by which periodontal disease might contribute to cardiovascular disease. But by reviewing the literature on both types of disease, Loesche has found intriguing connections that suggest possible mechanisms:

Blood vessels damaged by periodontal bacteria or their products. One possibility is that bacteria from the mouth -- or products released by these bacteria -- travel through the bloodstream to other parts of the body, where they damage the linings of blood vessels. In his own research, Loesche has found that patients with coronary artery disease have elevated levels of certain periodontal bacteria. These bacteria contain lipopolysaccharides, toxins that can cause illness when released into the body.

Other lines of research suggest that lipopolysaccharides may damage the cells that line blood vessels, as measured by the release of a substance called von Willebrand factor. Researchers have found that levels of von Willebrand factor are elevated in people with periodontal disease. This observation suggests that lipopolysaccharides produced by periodontal bacteria might travel through the bloodstream to blood vessel walls, where they cause damage.

A similar relationship appears to exist with a group of proteins called acute phase response proteins. Levels of these proteins increase in the bloodstream in response to chronic infection, injurie

Contact: Nancy Ross-Flanigan
University of Michigan

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