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News / May 26, 2009

Gene links gum and heart disease

by Guy Hiscott

Scientists have discovered a genetic link between dental disease and heart attacks.

Researchers at the universities of Kiel, Dresden, Amsterdam and Bonn have presented the first evidence of the specific genetic variant linking aggressive periodontitis and coronary heart disease.

Study leader Dr Arne Schaefer said gum disease should be taken very seriously and treated as early as possible.

He says: ‘Now we know for sure that there is a strong genetic link, patients with periodontitis should try to reduce their risk factors and take preventive measures at an early stage.’

British Dental Health Foundation chief executive Dr Nigel Carter backed the researchers’ calls as National Smile Month entered its second week.

He said: “This research presents us with further evidence of the systemic links between gum disease and heart disease, the leading cause of deaths worldwide.
This reinforces the importance of good dental care and the need for regular dental visits, where periodontitis can be diagnosed and treated early.’

The new research on gum disease and heart disease was published by the online journal PLoS Genetics and Dr Schaefer presented findings to the annual conference of the European Society of Human Genetics in Vienna.

The genetic link was found on chromosome 9 in 1,097 people with heart disease and 151 people with aggressive, early-onset periodontitis.

Dr Schaefer, from the Institute for Clinical Molecular Biology at Kiel University said: ‘Aggressive periodontitis has shown itself to be associated not only with the same risk factors such as smoking, but it shares, at least in parts, the same genetic predisposition with an illness that is the leading cause of death worldwide.’

The researchers have shown similarities between the bacteria found in the oral cavity and those in coronary plaques and both diseases are characterised by an imbalanced immune reaction and chronic inflammation.

One theory is that the bacteria involved in gum disease trigger a low-grade inflammatory response throughout the body, prompting changes in the arteries leading to strokes and heart attacks.

Another possibility is that bacteria disturbs the way blood vessels dilate directly, since some bacteria can enter the bloodstream.