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Study finds direct association between cardiovascular disease and periodontal bacteria

Researchers report this week that older adults who have higher proportions of four periodontal-disease-causing bacteria inhabiting their mouths also tend to have thicker carotid arteries, a strong predictor of stroke and heart attack. The study, published in the current issue of the journal Circulation, was supported by four agencies of the National Institutes of Health.

According to the authors, these data mark the first report of a direct association between cardiovascular disease and bacteria involved in periodontal disease, inflammation of the gums that affects to varying degrees an estimated 200 million Americans. But the researchers say the findings are not proof that the bacteria cause cardiovascular disease, directly or indirectly.

"What was interesting to us was the specificity of the association," said Mose Desvarieux, M. D., Ph. D., the study's lead author and an infectious disease epidemiologist at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and the University of Minnesota. "These same four bacteria were there, they were always there in the analysis, and the relationship seems to be pretty much, with one exception, limited to them."

Desvarieux stressed that although the new data further illuminate a long-standing scientific issue, they shed little light on the broader public health question related to cardiovascular disease. The 657 people in the study had their oral bacteria and carotid thickness evaluated at the same point in time. So Desvarieux said, "It's impossible to know which comes first, the periodontal disease or thickening of the carotid artery." The answer to that question is fundamental to establishing causality--in this case, whether chronic inflammation or infection could have led to the atherosclerosis of the carotid arteries.

He and his colleagues noted that the public health information could come soon. "We will re-examine the participants in less than three years, and, at that point
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Contact: Bob Kuska
kuskar@nidcr.nih.gov
301-594-7560
NIH/National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
7-Feb-2005


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