Link Between Perio and Heart Disease Studied

Nov. 1, 1996
A four-year, $2.2 million grant has been awarded to the University of North Carolina (UNC) by the National Institute of Dental Research to better define the link between periodontal disease and heart disease. The study will enable researchers to explore, in detail, the underlying responses common to both diseases.

A four-year, $2.2 million grant has been awarded to the University of North Carolina (UNC) by the National Institute of Dental Research to better define the link between periodontal disease and heart disease. The study will enable researchers to explore, in detail, the underlying responses common to both diseases.

By tapping into an ongoing study at UNC, researchers will be able to examine markers of periodontal disease in 14,000 individuals already receiving heart-disease testing. The dental researchers then will compare these periodontal markers with clinical measures of heart disease-the occurrence of heart attacks, stroke and death; and ultrasound measures of carotid-vessel thickening. The researchers hope that these comparisons will uncover the biological association between dental disease and heart disease.

Several previous studies have shown than individuals with severe periodontal disease are more likely to develop heart disease than are people without gum problems. One study even suggested that individuals with severe periodontal bone loss may have twice the risk of fatal coronary heart disease as normal individuals, after controlling for other relevant risk factors.

Part of the link between periodontal disease and heart disease may lie with harmful bacteria that colonize the mouth. The investigators theorize that certain types of these bacteria, which clump together in sticky masses (plaque) and cause periodontal disease, also activate white blood cells to release harmful clotting factors and proteins that contribute to heart disease and stroke.