Study Among Native Americans Shows Gum Disease Increases Risk of Future Heart Disease

By Lois Baker

Release Date: March 23, 1997 This content is archived.


ORLANDO, FLA. -- Persons with gum disease are at high risk of developing heart disease in the future, particularly if they also are diabetic, researchers in the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine have found.

Results of the study, conducted among Native Americans from the Gila River Indian community in Mesa, Ariz., 40 percent of whom have diabetes, showed that periodontal disease was a stronger risk factor in this population than other conditions traditionally associated with heart disease risk, including hypertension, high cholesterol, age and gender.

Robert J. Genco, SUNY Distinguished Professor and chair of the UB Department of Oral Biology, reported the results here today (Sunday, March 23) at the annual meeting of the International Association for Dental Research.

"We have always suspected that periodontal disease was a true risk factor for cardiovascular disease, but our studies have been confounded by the presence of smoking," Genco said.

"Smoking is rare in this community of Pima Indians, so it was not a factor," he added. "We found a powerful association between the existence of periodontal disease at the study baseline and the development of cardiovascular disease in the succeeding 10 years." Diabetes was the only factor that showed a stronger association.

"There are many reasons to treat periodontal disease," Genco said. "This is a very good one."

New dental research being conducted at UB and other institutions is showing a strong relationship between conditions in the oral cavity and many systemic diseases. In this case, bacteria present in periodontal disease is thought to be the culprit, Genco said.

"Oral bacteria enter the bloodstream via small ulcers in the gum tissue. These bacteria causes platelets to aggregate and form clumps, or thrombi. These clumps accumulate on damaged tissue, such as lesions in the blood vessel or a heart-valve replacement, which

represents a damaged area in the heart. The transplanted bacteria can cause the valve to become infected, and the accumulated clumps can block blood vessels.

"We’ve known for some time that oral bacteria can infect damaged hearts and that certain oral bacteria cause platelets to aggregate," Genco said. "We just recently put these findings together as a possible explanation of how bacteria that cause periodontal disease can also increase the risk for heart disease."

Genco has been following this population of American Indians since 1982, first as a consultant to the National Institutes of Health when severe periodontal disease was found among them, and then for a 10-year study of periodontal disease in diabetics. The new findings on the relationship between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease are part of that study.

Participating in the research were scientists from the UB Periodontal Disease Research Center, the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and the division of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in Phoenix, Ariz.

The research was supported by a grant from the U.S. Public Health Service