Keeping the teeth and gums healthy by regular cleaning can help prevent heart disease, researchers say.sillydog/Flickr

Keeping the teeth and gums healthy by regular cleaning can help prevent heart diseases, researchers say.

Highlighting the consequences of ignoring dental problems, a team of researchers from the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University in the US found that brushing, flossing and regular visits to the dentist helped reduce the accumulation of plaque on the artery walls and narrowing and hardening of arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis that poses risk to the heart.

Elasticity of the arteries is crucial for keeping the heart healthy. However, sometimes, a build-up of fatty deposits in the artery walls, leads to thickening of the walls, narrowing and damaging its elasticity and thus reducing flow of blood through them.  The occurrence can increase the risk of blood clots (thrombus), strokes, heart failure, high blood pressure, renal failure, leg pains and aneurysm (swelling of blood vessels).

"These results are important because atherosclerosis progressed in parallel with both clinical periodontal disease and the bacterial profiles in the gums. This is the most direct evidence yet that modifying the periodontal bacterial profile could play a role in preventing or slowing both diseases," lead author of the study, Dr Moïse Desvarieux, said in a news release.

Nearly 420 adults participated in the study. The participants were selected from the Oral Infections and Vascular Disease Epidemiology Study (INVEST) in Manhattan. Prevalence of periodontal infection among the participants was examined.

The researchers collected 5,008 plaque samples from different parts of the mouth, including the gum and teeth. The samples were tested for 11 bacterial strains that cause periodontal disease. To analyse the risk factors associated with inflammation, researchers tested fluid around the gums and measured levels of Interleukin-1β. Finally, with the help of ultrasound, they measured the progression of atherosclerosis in arteries.

After following the participants for three years, the researchers found that improving the gum health helped improve periodontal health and slowed intima-medial thickness or IMT (calculated by measuring the thickness of the two innermost layers of a vein) progression.

 "When it comes to atherosclerosis, a tenth of a millimeter in the thickness of the carotid artery is a big deal," Dr Tatjana Rundek, co-author of the study and professor at the University of Miami, said.

Previous studies have shown that bacteria in the mouth prompted immune response and aggravated atherosclerosis. The same researchers also had reported earlier that growth of harmful bacteria contribute to an increase in the IMT thickness. 

"Our results show a clear relationship between what is happening in the mouth and thickening of the carotid artery, even before the onset of full-fledged periodontal disease," co-author Panos  Dr N. Papapanou,  professor of Dental Medicine at Columbia University's College of Dental Medicine, said. "This suggests that incipient periodontal disease should not be ignored."

The findings have been reported in the Journal of the American Heart Association, last week.