Gum infection could be a major sign of heart trouble, researchers find

Red, swollen and bleeding gums are a sign of gum disease, also known as “Periodontitis”.  Periodontitis can lead to many serious dental consequences from bad breath loose and painful teeth.  Current research coming out of Japan from the University of Hiroshima has linked gum inflammation to even more severe systemic problems throughout the body, and especially in the heart.

In a study published in JACC: Clinical Electrophysiology, the researchers discovered a significant correlation between periodontitis and fibrosis — scarring of the heart’s left atrium which can lead to an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation — in a sample of 76 patients with cardiac disease.

“Periodontitis is associated with a long-standing inflammation, and inflammation plays a key role in atrial fibrosis progression and atrial fibrillation pathogenesis,” explained Shunsuke Miyauchi, the study’s author and assistant professor at Hiroshima University’s Health Service Center. He is also affiliated with the university’s Graduate School of Biomedical and Health Sciences.

“We hypothesized that periodontitis exacerbates atrial fibrosis. This histological study of left atrial appendages aimed to clarify the relationship between clinical periodontitis status and degree of atrial fibrosis.”  The study found that the worse the periodontitis, the worse the fibrosis, suggesting that the inflammation of gums may intensify inflammation and disease in the heart.

“This study provides basic evidence that periodontitis can aggravate atrial fibrosis and can be a novel modifiable risk factor for atrial fibrillation,” said corresponding author Yukiko Nakano, professor of cardiovascular medicine in Hiroshima University’s Graduate School of Biomedical and Health Sciences.

According to Nakano, in addition to improving other risk factors such as weight, activity levels, tobacco and alcohol use, periodontal care could aid in comprehensive atrial fibrillation management. She cautioned that “further evidence is required for establishing that periodontitis contributes to the atrial fibrosis in a causal manner and that periodontal care can alter fibrosis.”

Andreas Goette, MD (St. Vincenz Hospital, Paderborn, Germany), wrote an editorial accompanying the published study which noted that “one of our goals is to confirm that periodontitis is a modifiable risk factor for atrial fibrillation and to promote dental specialists’ participation in comprehensive atrial fibrillation management. Periodontitis is an easy modifiable target with lower cost among known atrial fibrillation risk factors. Thus, the achievement of this study series may bring benefits for many people worldwide.”

In addition to that, Goette says the study “implies that chronic oral inflammation not only correlates to the histological finding of fibrosis, but also is directly related to clinical events like stroke and heart attack.”

Symptoms of a Heart Attack

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of a heart attack vary. Some people have mild symptoms. Others have severe symptoms. Some people have no symptoms.

Common heart attack symptoms include:

  1. Chest pain that may feel like pressure, tightness, pain, squeezing or aching.
  2. Pain or discomfort that spreads to the shoulder, arm, back, neck, jaw, teeth or sometimes the upper belly.
  3. Cold sweat
  4. Fatigue
  5. Heartburn or indigestion
  6. Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness
  7. Nausea
  8. Shortness of breath

Women may have atypical symptoms such as brief or sharp pain felt in the neck, arm or back. Sometimes, the first symptom sign of a heart attack is sudden cardiac arrest.

Some heart attacks strike suddenly. But many people have warning signs and symptoms hours, days or weeks in advance. Chest pain or pressure (angina) that keeps happening and doesn’t go away with rest may be an early warning sign. Angina is caused by a temporary decrease in blood flow to the heart.

Researchers all agree that regular examinations with a trusted periodontist is key to early diagnosis, treatment and prevention of cardiac complications.