Coronary heart disease, the leading killer in the U.S., is mostly related to smoking, lack of exercise and too many visits to the greasy spoon. But recently infection has joined the list as a possible risk factor. In particular, some studies suggest an association between infected gums and heart disease, and oral bacteria have even shown up in the sticky plaques lining diseased arteries. If a causal relation can be established, then treating gum disease early may prevent hundreds of heart attacks every year.
At least half of all Americans over age 30 have gingivitis, a mild inflammation caused by bacterial plaque. Untreated, it may turn into periodontitis, in which bacteria colonize pockets that form between the gums and teeth. The resulting inflammation slowly eats away tissue and bone, eventually leading to tooth loss. At least one third of U.S. adults over age 30 have some form of periodontitis (smoking is a main risk factor for getting it).
This article was originally published with the title Taken to Heart.