Ever heard of Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, Porphyromonas gingivalis, Tannerella forsythia, Treponema denticola or Fusobacterium nucleatum? Must admit those all sound like they belong in a certain catchy Disney tune. Just as we sincerely hope that song is not stuck in your head, we also hope those bacteria just mentioned don’t end up stuck in your heart.
Unfortunately, the likelihood of this happening is fairly high, because a disease found in more than 50% of adults over age 30 has been found to injure the heart’s major arteries. A new peer reviewed BaleDoneen study, published in the April issue of Postgraduate Medical Journal (PMJ) is the first to reveal this new, treatable cause of cardiovascular disease. Surprisingly, there is an Oral-Systemic Connection, meaning: it starts in your mouth and spreads throughout your body.
In fact, a landmark 1954 study was the first to show that oral germs, such as those that cause gum disease, frequently enter our bloodstream and begin racing their way through all of the body’s hairpin turns via our arteries. Among the seemingly unfair ways this can happen are through periodontal cleaning, tooth extractions, your twice daily tooth brushing, and (even though it’s something our mothers told us to do) simply chewing our food. This can lead to a wildfire of chronic inflammation, which causes cardiovascular disease (CVD, also known as heart disease), diabetes and sadly even some forms of cancer.
While poor oral health has also been linked to dementia, rheumatoid arthritis and even pregnancy complications, according to the American Academy for Oral Systemic Health, this new research suggests that harm to our hearts caused by gum disease is due to those high-risk oral bacteria with the now not-so-funny names mentioned earlier.
Three Ways Oral Bacteria Contribute to Heart Disease
Remember that old game show, Press Your Luck, where people would yell “Big money, no whammies!” over and over in between long commercial breaks? Well, cardiovascular disease (CVD) results from a TRIPLE whammy known as the atherosclerotic triad. Atherosclerosis is plaque buildup (and of course we already knew plaque was bad) in the arteries that can lead to a heart attack or stroke. This new BaleDoneen study is the first to show that these bacterial monsters can intensify each piece of the triad, creating a perfect storm of whammy destruction. Here’s how:
- People with gum disease have up to twice as much small, dense LDL cholesterol (the most dangerous kind) in their blood as those with healthy gums. In this case, size matters. The big ones bounce off vessel walls, while the small and dense ones make it easier to penetrate the lining of our arteries. Imagine beach balls and bullets traveling through your system. One would definitely have you screaming “no whammies,” while the other sounds like it tickles.
- Chemicals produced by high-risk oral bacteria make the walls of the artery more permeable, or easier for these bad cholesterol bullets to invade. Since people with gum disease caused by these pathogens also have higher concentrations of dense cholesterol bullets in their bloodstream, it’s like sitting on the sofa in a house with broken windows asking the whammies to please keep off the lawn.
- Substances produced by these high-risk bacteria can also make the inner layers of our artery walls stickier, like Velcro, providing a perfect opportunity for more plaque deposits.
How might this change dental care?
For one we’re likely to diagnose and manage periodontal disease differently, since the research shows it’s important to find out if people with PD have these high-risk bacteria in the first place.
Instead of only evaluating the severity of symptoms such as the depth of pockets in the gums, how much bleeding is present, or how loose teeth are, the study suggests using available tests from companies that measure Oral Pathogens through DNA analysis. A sort of forensic genealogy, if you will. Therefore, our office might utilize tests such as OralDNA, OraVital, or Hain Diagnostics, to determine if your gum disease is due to high-risk bacteria. This extra step protects your overall health, most especially your heart health.
The BaleDoneen Method hopes this study will lead to better treatment or even eradication of high-risk oral bacteria and by extension, optimization of systemic wellness. Instead of pressing your luck, feel free to ask us what you can do to improve your oral health and prevent these whammies from winning. Please consider your regular Austin dental visits an essential weapon in the fight against heart attack and stroke!