The theme for World Oral Health Day 2016 is “Health Mouth. Healthy Body”. It aims to raise awareness of the link between oral health and other diseases of the body.
In today’s post, we continue to spotlight this theme with a focus on the link between gum disease and heart disease. In Australia, heart disease is the single biggest killer of women – with three times as many women dying from it than breast cancer.
There is a good community awareness and understanding of heart disease risk factors, such as smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity and physical inactivity. That’s because there is a lot of medical-sourced information and press-coverage to increase awareness of this set of risk factors.
Yet the oral health links with heart disease are usually not mentioned in any medical-sourced information about heart disease risk factors – even though there is a lot of scientific research and evidence to support this link.
Because Dentistry is a separate field of study from Medicine.
But in 2014, the University of Florida’s College of Dentistry and College of Medicine presented a joint study at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.
The medical and dental researchers studied mice infected with four specific bacteria that cause gum disease in humans. After the bacteria had spread to the mouse heart and aorta, the researchers detected an increase in cholesterol and inflammation in the test mice – risk factors associated with heart disease.
The study was part of a greater study on the links between gum disease and over-all health being conducted by the UFL’s Department of Periodontology
Dr. Lakshmyya Kesavalu, an Associate Professor within the department explained, ” 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.”
Dr. Alexandra Lucas, a cardiologist from UFL’s College of Medicine and co-investigator in the research stated, “Our intent is to increase physician awareness of links between oral bacterial infection and heart disease. Understanding the importance of treating gum disease in patients with heart disease will lead to future studies and recommendations for careful attention to oral health in order to protect patients against heart disease,”
The American Heart Foundation has since acknowledged the causal links between gum disease and heart disease. They list a number of related research articles on their website.
To date, the National Heart Foundation of Australia has not raised awareness to help increase public knowledge about the potential effects of gum disease on heart health.
Clearly, the medical and dental fields still need to establish better co-operation, so that gum disease in not overlooked – when treating patients for heart disease.