Periodontitis, a gum disease, can lead to a litany of dental issues from bad breath to bleeding and lost teeth. Now, researchers at Hiroshima University in Japan have found that it could be connected to even more severe problems in the heart.
In a study published in JACC: Clinical Electrophysiology, the team found a significant correlation between periodontitis and fibrosis – scarring to an appendage of the heart’s left atrium that can lead to an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation – in a sample of 76 patients with cardiac disease.
First author Shunsuke Miyauchi said: “Periodontitis is associated with a long-standing inflammation, and inflammation plays a key role in atrial fibrosis progression and atrial fibrillation pathogenesis. We hypothesized that periodontitis exacerbates atrial fibrosis. This histological study of left atrial appendages aimed to clarify the relationship between clinical periodontitis status and degree of atrial fibrosis”.
The left atrial appendages were surgically removed from the patients, and the researchers analysed the tissue to establish the correlation between severity of the atrial fibrosis and severity of the gum disease. They found that the worse the periodontitis, the worse the fibrosis, suggesting that the inflammation of gums may intensify inflammation and disease in the heart.
According to author Yukiko Nakano, improving risk factors such as weight, activity levels, tobacco and alcohol use, and periodontal care could aid in comprehensive atrial fibrillation management. However, she cautioned that this study did not establish a causal relationship, meaning that while gum disease and atrial fibrosis degrees of severity appear connected, researchers have not found that one definitively leads to the other.