Nav: Home

IU research team to study whether cleaning teeth reduces risk of heart disease

September 24, 2004

INDIANAPOLIS -- An Indiana University School of Dentistry researcher will study whether dental patients whose teeth are cleaned regularly may be getting far more than a sparkling white smile: they also may be reducing their chances of developing heart disease.

Leading a team of researchers from IU's schools of dentistry and medicine, Dr. Michael Kowolik will use a $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study dental plaque accumulation as a risk factor for heart disease.

Kowolik's research comes at a time when chronic infections in the body are under increasing investigation for the role they may play in the development of a number of health problems, including heart disease.

Three years ago, Kowolik published a study showing that this same accumulation of plaque on teeth, which leads to gingivitis, produced a systemic response from the body's main line of defense to infections: the white blood cell.

"If you get an infection anywhere in the body, these cells come pouring out of your bone marrow to defend you," Kowolik said. "I had an idea that if we allowed plaque to accumulate on teeth, the white blood cells would respond. Lo and behold, they did, and we can measure this."

The new study, involving 140 Indianapolis area volunteers, takes that idea one step further. Half of the volunteers who will be recruited for the research will be African Americans, marking the first time, as far as is known, that African Americans will be included in such a study.

Cardiologists have known for 20 years that one of the principal risk factors for a heart attack is an elevated white blood cell count, Kowolik said. "We will study whether allowing plaque to accumulate is sufficient to raise the white blood cell count to the point it would become a risk factor for heart disease."

In addition to studying white blood cell counts, the research team also will look for other well-established inflammatory markers that are known to occur in people who have chronic infections and also could be related to risk of heart disease.

"We're not talking about people with advanced periodontal disease," Kowolik said. "We're talking about healthy people who simply neglect oral hygiene."

The notion that what goes on in the mouth probably affects the rest of the body isn't new, Kowolik said.

"In the early 1900s, some well-informed physicians harangued dentists for the fact that they were focused on the cosmetic repair of mouths and much less on the health of the populace," he said.

In the 1960s, dental researchers scientifically established that dental plaque causes oral inflammation, specifically gingivitis, setting the stage for later studies that have linked oral health to the health of the rest of the body, Kowolik said.

The research findings in the 1960s justified the profession of dental hygiene and the practice of preventive dentistry, he noted, because they demonstrated a definitive cause-and-effect relationship between plaque build-up and gingivitis.

This latest study will not prove definitively that neglecting oral hygiene leads to heart disease, but the body of evidence that dentistry plays an important role in a preventive health program for the rest of the body is getting stronger, Kowolik said.

Excited by the challenge the research presents, he said the work is a natural outgrowth of a dental education in which his professors took the enlightened view that "the mouth isn't just a place where you put fillings in teeth and occasionally take a tooth out, but is much more connected to the rest of the body."

A former researcher for Procter & Gamble, Kowolik received his dental and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. He joined IU's full-time faculty in 1998.

Indiana University

Related Heart Disease Articles:

Where you live could determine risk of heart attack, stroke or dying of heart disease
People living in parts of Ontario with better access to preventive health care had lower rates of cardiac events compared to residents of regions with less access, found a new study published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).
Older adults with heart disease can become more independent and heart healthy with physical activity
Improving physical function among older adults with heart disease helps heart health and even the oldest have a better quality of life and greater independence.
Dietary factors associated with substantial proportion of deaths from heart disease, stroke, and disease
Nearly half of all deaths due to heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes in the US in 2012 were associated with suboptimal consumption of certain dietary factors, according to a study appearing in the March 7 issue of JAMA.
Certain heart fat associated with higher risk of heart disease in postmenopausal women
For the first time, researchers have pinpointed a type of heart fat, linked it to a risk factor for heart disease and shown that menopausal status and estrogen levels are critical modifying factors of its associated risk in women.
Maternal chronic disease linked to higher rates of congenital heart disease in babies
Pregnant women with congenital heart defects or type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of giving birth to babies with severe congenital heart disease and should be monitored closely in the prenatal period, according to a study published in CMAJ.
Novel heart valve replacement offers hope for thousands with rheumatic heart disease
A novel heart valve replacement method is revealed today that offers hope for the thousands of patients with rheumatic heart disease who need the procedure each year.
Younger heart attack survivors may face premature heart disease death
For patients age 50 and younger, the risk of premature death after a heart attack has dropped significantly, but their risk is still almost twice as high when compared to the general population, largely due to heart disease and other smoking-related diseases The risk of heart attack can be greatly reduced by quitting smoking, exercising and following a healthy diet.
Citrus fruits could help prevent obesity-related heart disease, liver disease, diabetes
Oranges and other citrus fruits are good for you -- they contain plenty of vitamins and substances, such as antioxidants, that can help keep you healthy.
Gallstone disease may increase heart disease risk
A history of gallstone disease was linked to a 23 percent increased risk of developing coronary heart disease.
Americans are getting heart-healthier: Coronary heart disease decreasing in the US
Coronary heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States.

Related Heart Disease Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#529 Do You Really Want to Find Out Who's Your Daddy?
At least some of you by now have probably spit into a tube and mailed it off to find out who your closest relatives are, where you might be from, and what terrible diseases might await you. But what exactly did you find out? And what did you give away? In this live panel at Awesome Con we bring in science writer Tina Saey to talk about all her DNA testing, and bioethicist Debra Mathews, to determine whether Tina should have done it at all. Related links: What FamilyTreeDNA sharing genetic data with police means for you Crime solvers embraced...