Gum Infection: A Potential Risk Factor for Heart Arrhythmia

By Tamara Thomas - March 10, 2023

Significant association exists between periodontitis and atrial fibrosis, a condition that affects the heart’s ability to function correctly, according to a study in JACC: Clinical Electrophysiology.

Periodontitis, a common gum disease, is linked to severe issues beyond oral health, particularly for the heart.

In this study, researchers looked at 76 patients with different heart problems undergoing surgery to remove a part of their heart called the left atrial appendage. First, they examined the patients’ mouths and checked for signs of gum disease, such as how many teeth they had, whether their gums bled when probed, and the depth of spaces between their gums and teeth. Then, they measured how much of the gums were inflamed and the amount of scarring or damage.

“Periodontitis is associated with a long-standing inflammation, and inflammation plays a key role in atrial fibrosis progression and atrial fibrillation pathogenesis,” said first author Shunsuke Miyauchi, assistant professor with Hiroshima University’s Health Service Center. “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 researchers found that a high level of periodontitis was associated with more severe scarring and damage to the heart tissue. The findings suggest that gum inflammation may contribute to intense inflammation and heart disease.

“This study provides basic evidence that periodontitis can aggravate atrial fibrosis and can be a novel modifiable risk factor for atrial fibrillation,” said corresponding author Yukiko Nakano, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Hiroshima University’s Graduate School of Biomedical and Health Sciences.

According to Nakano, treating gum disease may help manage atrial fibrillation (a heart condition) and promote other healthy habits like maintaining a healthy weight, being active, and avoiding tobacco and alcohol. However, she cautioned that this study did not prove that gum disease directly causes atrial fibrillation, rather, it only showed that there might be a link between the 2 conditions.

“Further evidence is required for establishing that periodontitis contributes to the atrial fibrosis in a causal manner and that periodontal care can alter fibrosis,” Nakano said. “One of our goals is to confirm that periodontitis is a modifiable risk factor for atrial fibrillation and to promote dental specialists’ participation in comprehensive atrial fibrillation management. Periodontitis is an easy modifiable target with lower cost among known atrial fibrillation risk factors. Thus, the achievement of this study series may bring benefits for many people worldwide.”

The researchers hope to conduct clinical trials in the future to determine if treating periodontal disease can reduce the occurrence of atrial fibrillation and improve patient outcomes.

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June 9, 2023