How routine dental check-ups could help spot early signs of cardiovascular disease

If further research into mouthwash detecting signs of cardiovascular disease is successful, annual dental exams could soon become routine assessments of our heart health.

Recent research on how saliva can identify warning signs of cardiovascular disease by detecting the number of white blood cells in oral rinse fluid is the latest example of how our mouths reflect our overall health.

Scientists at the University of Western Ontario in Canada have found that high levels of white blood cells are associated with impaired blood flow-mediated dilation, an early indicator of poor artery health.

Research has found that the inflammation that leads to periodontitis (or gum disease) is linked to poor arterial health and a potentially higher risk of cardiovascular disease, even in healthy young people.

Results published in journal Oral Health Frontiers.

Recent research from the University of Sharjah also found that gum disease is more common in obese people and that poor overall health often leads to tooth decay due to an increase in oral bacteria.

Identifying early signs of cardiovascular disease during routine dental exams can allow for preemptive treatment to avoid a heart attack or stroke later in life.

When we see inflammation and relate it to the patient's age, physical activity, and any preexisting medical conditions, we can often link it to cardiovascular disease

Dr. Ali Barhum, German Hospital, Saudi Arabia

“We're starting to see more of a relationship between oral health and cardiovascular disease risk,” said study author Ker-Yung Hong of the University of Western Ontario.

“If we find that oral health may even have an impact on the risk of cardiovascular disease in healthy young individuals, then this holistic approach could be implemented sooner.”

Healthy young adults with no diagnosed gum problems were evaluated to determine whether lower levels of oral inflammation are clinically relevant to cardiovascular health.

Researchers believe that inflammatory factors may enter the bloodstream through the gums, damaging the vascular system that regulates blood flow throughout the body and blocking the delivery of essential oxygen and nutrients.

The study examined the oral health of 28 non-smokers aged 18 to 30 who did not have any comorbidities or other conditions that may affect heart health.

Participants fasted for six hours, then their white blood cells were flushed with saline solution and analyzed.

Measure cardiovascular disease indicators such as blood pressure and electrocardiogram to show arterial blood flow and stiffness.

The study was limited by the young age and general health of the participants, prompting calls to expand the study to a wider population.

red flag

Doctors say this kind of screening is a good idea and can be done along with regular dental exams to catch early signs of heart problems.

Dr Ali Barhoum, a general dentist at the Saudi German Hospital in Dubai, said: “Generally, when we have patients with cardiovascular problems, we notice periodontal health issues in them, such as gingivitis.”

“Dry mouth is also a serious saliva-related problem that may be related to tooth decay or certain medications, such as beta blockers or other high blood pressure medications.

“That's usually a red flag.”

The mouth can be a road map to potential health problems elsewhere, and dentists are constantly looking for other signs.

This may include a dry mouth or cracked tongue, which may indicate Sjögren's syndrome, a common autoimmune disease that attacks the glands that produce moisture in the eyes, mouth and elsewhere.

It may also be related to stress or menopause.

In addition to cardiovascular disease, poor oral health can manifest itself in skin and gastrointestinal problems as well as bone problems.

“About 60-70 percent of other health problems in our body have oral manifestations,” says Dr. Barhum.

“When we see inflammation and relate it to the patient's age, physical activity and any preexisting medical conditions, we can often link it to cardiovascular disease,”

Dr. Barhum acknowledges that antidepressant medications can also cause inflammation and says it's important to understand a patient's overall health.

“Most people think that going to the dentist is purely for a dental check-up, but that’s not the case.

“We are doctors, and looking inside the mouth can give a good indication of a person's overall health.

“If we see any signs of systemic illness or psychological issues, we always ask for more screening of the patient.”

Update time: 3:30 am on August 22, 2023

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