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Study Links Gum Disease Bacteria to Increased Risk of Heart Disease

Update Date: May 19, 2014 01:54 PM EDT

In a new study, researchers examined the link between the bacteria present in gum disease and heart disease. They discovered that the bacteria found in gum disease were the same ones that are tied to promoting heart disease. The team believes that this new finding could help diagnose and treat future cases of heart disease.

The research team gave mice gum disease by infecting them with four specific bacteria, which were Porphyromonas gingivalis, Treponema denticola, Tannerella forsythia, Fusobacterium nucleatum. The researchers monitored the mice's progress by analyzing the bacteria present in their gums, heart and aorta. They found that the same bacteria present in these regions were linked to an increased risk of factors tied to heart disease, such as cholesterol and inflammation.

"We report evidence that introduction of oral bacteria into the bloodstream in mice increased risk factors for atherosclerotic heart disease. Our hope is that the American Heart Association will acknowledge causal links between oral disease and increased heart disease. That will change how physicians diagnose and treat heart disease patients," said Irina M. Velsko, a graduate student in the University of Florida's College of Medicine, according to the press release.

In North America, heart disease is the leading cause of death. Within the United States, gum disease affects 46 percent of the population. Even though doctors have linked these two illnesses together, gum disease has not been identified as a risk factor for heart disease. By identifying the relationship between the two, doctors could potentially screen for heart disease more effectively.

Cardiologist and co-investigator of the study, Alexandra Lucas of the University of Florida, College of Medicine, added, "Our intent is to increase physician awareness of links between oral bacterial infection and heart disease. Understanding the importance of treating gum disease in patients with heart disease will lead to future studies and recommendations for careful attention to oral health in order to protect patients against heart disease."

The study was presented at the American Society for Microbiology's annual meeting.

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