A new study is reinforcing the connection between oral health and your overall health. We already understand the connection between gum disease and heart disease. We even know that this connection isn’t a new affliction. It’s been contributing to heart disease risks since the days of ancient Egypt.
But now we’re learning that it’s not just gum disease bacteria that infect your gums that can cause heart problems–it can also be the bacteria that infect your teeth. A new study shows that people with infected teeth are at a higher risk for heart disease, and that root canal therapy might have a protective effect.
Shuffle and Sort
This study was performed by researchers in Finland, working with the population from the Finnish Parogene study. There were 508 patients in the study with a mean age of 62 years. Patients were given comprehensive dental exams and detailed heart studies. They found that 76% of patients (385) had some degree of heart problems, including coronary artery disease and acute coronary syndrome. Coronary artery disease is when the arteries that supply the heart become partially blocked with plaque. The fact that living oral bacteria are often found in this arterial plaque links coronary artery disease with heart disease. Acute coronary syndrome describes the condition when heart attack is imminent due to blocked arteries. This was the distribution of heart disease in the sample:
- 36% (184) with stable coronary artery disease
- 33% (169) with acute coronary syndrome (ACS)
- 6% (6%) without coronary artery disease but with ACS-like symptoms
They then correlated the results of heart exam with the results of the dental exam. In the dental exam, 59% were found to have some signs of infected teeth. (32 patients without any teeth (6%) were counted as having no sign of tooth infection. Of the remainder:
- 44% (222) had loss of bone around the tip of the teeth or space at the tips of the root canals
- 15% (76) had bone loss around two or more teeth
When they checked for correlations, they found that people with space around their teeth had nearly double the risk of coronary artery disease and nearly 2.5 times the risk of ACS.
Of course, a correlation isn’t necessarily a causal link. With the previously established link between gum disease bacteria and heart disease, this seems like a reasonable connection. If nothing else, the infected tooth would increase the overall bacterial load and make it harder for the body to fight gum disease.
Can Treatment Reduce Risks?
This study didn’t set out to determine if root canal therapy could reduce heart attack risk, and it’s not capable of answering that question, but it did come across some intriguing data. Among the analysis, researchers discovered that those who had bone loss around untreated teeth had the highest risk of the most serious heart conditions. They had about 2.75 times the risk of ACS, meaning they were the most likely to be at imminent risk of heart attack. This led researchers to speculate that root canal therapy might protect against heart attack risk.
But even if root canal won’t ultimately prove its benefit for heart attack prevention, it remains a valuable reconstructive dentistry procedure because it can:
- Eliminate pain in an infected tooth
- Preserve the tooth
- Restore tooth to function and beauty
- Prevent the spread of potentially deadly infection
That makes a root canal one of the most important procedures in dentistry.