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Severe gum disease may increase the risk of high blood pressure, study finds

Experts encourage consumers to maintain solid dental hygiene habits

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Photo (c) Kanok Sulaiman - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the American Heart Association discovered a unique association between dental hygiene and blood pressure.

Their findings showed that consumers with severe gum disease (periodontitis) may have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure. The team hopes these findings encourage consumers to pay closer attention to their dental habits because they could have long-term impacts on heart health. 

“Patients with gum disease often present with elevated blood pressure, especially when there is active gingival inflammation, or bleeding of the gums,” said researcher Eva Muñoz Aguilera, DDS. “Elevated blood pressure is usually asymptomatic, and many individuals may be unaware that they are at an increased risk of cardiovascular complications. We aimed to investigate the association between severe periodontitis and high blood pressure in healthy adults without a confirmed diagnosis of hypertension.” 

The link between oral health and heart health

To understand how dental hygiene can affect blood pressure, the researchers evaluated results from past studies that included data on 250 adults with severe gum disease and 250 adults with healthy gums. Over the course of nearly two decades, the participants gave blood samples, had their blood pressure measured, and underwent dental exams to assess the severity of their gum disease. 

Though none of the participants had any health issues when the study began, the researchers noted a clear correlation between those who had severe gum disease and poorer heart health. Participants with active gum inflammation and severe gum disease were more likely to have high blood pressure, which the researchers defined as having 50 percent or more of the teeth infected. 

Ultimately, severe periodontitis made participants two times more likely to have high blood pressure. Bad dental health was also linked with lower good cholesterol levels, higher glucose levels, and higher bad cholesterol levels. Overall, gum disease -- because of the inflammation it causes -- can significantly impact consumers’ heart health. 

“This evidence indicates that periodontal bacteria cause damage to the gums and also triggers inflammatory responses that can impact the development of systemic diseases including hypertension,” said researcher Francesca D’Aiuto, DMD. “This would mean that the link between gum disease and elevated blood pressure occurs well before a patient develops high blood pressure. Our study also confirms that a worryingly high number of individuals are unaware of a possible diagnosis of hypertension.” 

The researchers say it’s important for dentists and primary care physicians to identify risk factors and recommend patients for further testing and observation. Consumers can do their part by practicing healthy dental habits.

“Oral health strategies such as brushing teeth twice daily are proven to be very effective in managing and preventing the most common oral conditions, and our study’s results indicate they can also be a powerful and affordable tool to help prevent hypertension,” Dr. D’Aiuto said. 

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