Underwood (07) 3219 9806 Calamvale (07) 3273 3220

Recent research focused on gum disease, bad breath and the oral bacterium Fusobacterium nucleatum has hinted that certain oral bacteria present in your gums may have implications beyond the confines of the mouth. Indeed, it may even jeopardise your heart health.

Correlations between oral pathogens and an increased risk of cardiovascular events have been considered likely for some time now, and this fresh study further supports the idea. Unravelling this connection not only enriches our comprehension of the factors contributing to heart disease but also paves the way for innovative strategies in identifying, preventing and managing cardiovascular risks linked to oral health.

Cardiovascular health

Cardiovascular diseases, including coronary heart disease (CHD), are major contributors to global mortality. In 2021, CHD was the most common cause of death in Australia, accounting for 17,300 deaths (AIHW 2023c), or about 10% of all fatalities. When CHD develops, plaque builds up in the arteries, typically leading to blockages, heart attacks and other cardiovascular events.

cardiovascular health disease

How do oral pathogens impact heart health?

Systemic inflammation

Oral bacteria causing oral infections (e.g., periodontal disease) can trigger a chronic inflammatory response. This inflammation may extend beyond the oral cavity, affecting the entire body’s wellbeing, which is known as systemic health. In cardiovascular health, systemic inflammation is recognised as a contributor to the development and progression of atherosclerosis—the buildup of plaque in arteries.

Invading arterial walls

The bloodstream provides a route for oral bacteria to travel to other parts of the body, including the arteries. When pathogens colonise the arterial walls, they may contribute to the formation and progression of atherosclerotic plaques.

Impacting blood clotting

In the presence of oral bacteria, the body’s immune system may mount a response, releasing inflammatory mediators that play a role in blood clotting. When clotting factors are impacted, it may contribute to the formation of blood clots within the arteries, increasing the risk of heart attacks or strokes.

Bacteria byproducts and heart health

As oral microbes metabolise nutrients, they produce various compounds which could potentially impact cardiovascular health. Some of these compounds may have systemic effects, influencing blood vessels, immune responses or other physiological processes relevant to heart health.

What the study reveals about oral bacteria and cardiovascular risks

In a recent study at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, Flavia Hodel and her team explored how oral health connects with cardiovascular risks. They analysed genetic data, health records and blood samples from 3,459 participants, focusing on Fusobacterium nucleatum, a bacterium tied to gum disease.

The study discovered that those with antibodies against F. nucleatum, indicating current or previous infection by the bacterium, exhibited a slightly elevated risk of cardiovascular events. Approximately 6% of participants who tested positive for F. nucleatum antibodies experienced heart attacks or other harmful cardiovascular events during the 12-year follow-up period.

The researchers not only uncovered this fresh insight but also confirmed that individuals with high genetic risk scores for coronary heart disease face an increased risk of cardiovascular issues.

This highlights the intricate blend of genetic tendencies and environmental factors contributing to heart disease. Additionally, the study sheds light on how F. nucleatum might add to cardiovascular risk—either by sparking systemic inflammation or by directly colonising arterial walls.

While recognising the need for further validation, the EPFL study introduces a new angle for identifying at-risk individuals and preventive measures. If future research solidifies the connection between F. nucleatum and heart disease, it could spark innovative strategies for personalised preventive care. The idea of targeting F. nucleatum infections to protect cardiovascular health stands out as a potential breakthrough, providing a glimpse into the future of preventive medicine and cardiovascular well-being.

examine cardiovascular risks

Prevention is better than cure

Regular brushing: Brush your teeth at least twice a day to remove plaque and bacteria from the surfaces of your teeth and gums. Use fluoride toothpaste to strengthen enamel and protect against cavities.

Flossing daily: Flossing is crucial for cleaning between teeth and along the gumline—areas that a toothbrush might miss. It helps prevent the buildup of plaque, reducing the risk of gum disease.

Antibacterial mouthwash: Consider using a gentle antibacterial or antiseptic mouthwash to help reduce bacteria in the mouth. This may be particularly relevant for individuals with a higher risk of cardiovascular issues.

Regular dental check-ups: Schedule regular dental check-ups and cleanings. Professional cleanings help remove stubborn plaque and tartar that may not be effectively addressed with regular brushing and flossing.

Healthy diet choices: Adopting a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains not only benefits oral health but also supports cardiovascular health. Limit sugary snacks and beverages, as they can contribute to tooth decay.

Stay hydrated: Drinking water is beneficial for oral health as it helps wash away food particles, reduces acidity in the mouth and promotes saliva production, which has protective effects on teeth.

Avoid cigarettes: Smoking is linked to gum disease and contributes to a range of cardiovascular issues. Quitting or avoiding these habits can significantly improve both oral and heart health.

Manage stress: Chronic stress can impact oral health and contribute to conditions like teeth grinding. Stress management techniques, such as exercise, meditation or yoga, can be beneficial for overall well-being.

Promoting cardiovascular wellness

Discovering the potential link between oral infections and an increased risk of heart disease highlights the importance of oral care. Take your best shot at great health for life by implementing preventive measures, including regular dental check-ups, responsible oral hygiene, a healthy diet and positive lifestyle choices.

Stay informed and incorporate these preventive measures into your daily life, to empower yourself to maintain your oral and cardiovascular health. There is no better time to take control of your health journey and lessen the potential impact of oral bacteria on your heart health. With your caring team at Healthy Smile Dental by your side, you’ve got this!