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Gum Disease Linked to Heart Attacks and Stroke

Add dentist visits to your heart-healthy behaviors

En español | Keeping your gums in good shape may go a long way toward protecting your heart health. Although still in the early stages, research presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2011 in Orlando, Fla., this week shows a tantalizing link between gum disease and heart disease.

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In one study, periodontist Anders Holmlund, of Gävle, Sweden, found that some types of gum disease, such as those that cause tooth loss or bleeding gums, could increase the likelihood of heart attack, stroke or heart failure.

Holmlund and a colleague studied the records of nearly 8,000 men and women 20 to 85 years old who were treated for gum disease, also called periodontal disease, between 1976 and 2008.

They found that:

  • Adults with fewer than 21 teeth (adults normally have 32 teeth, including four wisdom teeth) had a 69 percent increased risk of heart attack compared with adults who retained most of their teeth.
  • People with more infected areas where the gums pull away from the teeth, called periodontal pockets, had a 53 percent greater risk of a heart attack than those with the fewest pockets.
  • Adults who had the fewest teeth had double the risk of developing congestive heart failure — when a weakened heart can't pump enough blood — compared with those who retained more of their teeth.
  • Men and women who suffered from bleeding gums had more than twice the risk of stroke compared with those whose gums were healthy.

"Why these different markers of periodontal disease predict different cardiovascular diseases remains unknown," says Holmlund, "but we hope that future research will answer that question."

Next: Why brushing alone isn't enough. >>

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