Treating gum disease may ward off an irregular heartbeat

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Written By Margonoe Tumindax

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Regular dental check-ups can prevent gum disease

Alexander Shelegov/Getty Images

Treating gum disease after a procedure to correct an irregular and abnormally fast heart rate may lower the risk of the cardiac condition reoccurring.

The disorder, known as atrial fibrillation, involves an irregular heartbeat and can increase the risk of stroke and even heart failure. In advanced cases, it can be treated via catheter ablation, a procedure that very carefully destroys a damaged area of the heart that is interrupting its electrical circuits.

Now, Shunsuke Miyauchi at Hiroshima University in Japan and his colleagues have shown that gum disease may be a risk factor for atrial fibrillation.

The team enrolled 288 people who all had gum disease and underwent ablation to treat atrial fibrillation. Of these, 97 received treatment for their gum disease up to three months later.

In a follow-up period lasting up to two years, 24 per cent of the participants experienced atrial fibrillation again, but this was 61 per cent less likely to occur among those whose gum disease was treated after ablation.

The risk of developing atrial fibrillation again was higher if the person’s gum disease was more severe.

If gum tissue is inflamed or even ulcerated, bacteria and inflammatory immune proteins can enter the bloodstream, which may affect the heart, says Miyauchi.

The researchers also measured levels of inflammatory proteins in the participants’ blood before they underwent ablation, finding that these were elevated in those with severe gum disease. Higher levels of antibodies for gum disease-related bacteria were also linked to greater atrial fibrillation reoccurrence, says Miyauchi.

The team encourages people with atrial fibrillation to seek treatment for gum disease if necessary. It can be prevented by brushing with a fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day, flossing or using interdental sticks every day and regularly seeing a dentist.

Nieca Goldberg at NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York points out that the study was relatively small, with just 97 participants receiving treatment for gum disease. “Although many attempts have been made to show the link between gum disease and heart disease, this study does not show a definitive link between atrial fibrillation recurrence.” Nevertheless, “it does set the groundwork for future studies in this area”.

Topics:

  • The heart/
  • heart disease

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