In their longitudinal study, the researchers showed that inflammation associated with active gum disease was predictive of arterial inflammation, which can cause heart attacks, strokes, and other dangerous manifestations of cardiovascular disease, the researchers said.
The researchers performed positron emission tomography (PET) and computer tomography (CT) scans on 304 individuals to view and quantify inflammation in the arteries and gums of each patient.
In follow-up studies approximately four years later, 13 of those individuals developed major adverse cardiovascular events. The presence of periodontal inflammation was predictive of these events, even after the researchers controlled for all other risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.
Importantly, the researchers said, they found that bone loss from prior periodontal disease was not associated with cardiovascular events. Patients who did not have actively inflamed gums had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, even if they had a prior history of periodontal disease as evidenced by bone loss in their CT scans.
“This is very definitely related to people who have currently active inflammatory disease,” said Dr. Thomas Van Dyke, senior member of the staff and vice president of clinical and translational research at Forsyth.
The researchers hypothesize that local periodontal inflammation activates and mobilizes cells signaling through bone marrow, which triggers the inflammation of arteries, leading to adverse cardiac events.
While the study sample size is relatively small, Van Dyke said the observation is significant and should be studied in a much larger population. And for people with active gum disease, seeking treatment could potentially prevent a dangerous cardiac event.
“If you’re in the age zone for cardiovascular disease or have known cardiovascular disease, ignoring your periodontal disease can actually be dangerous and may increase your risk for a heart attack,” Van Dyke said.
The study, “Inflammation of the Periodontium Associates With Risk of Future Cardiovascular Events,” was published by the Journal of Periodontology.