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.
-end-


Indiana University

Related Heart Disease Articles:

Arsenic in drinking water may change heart structure raising risk of heart disease
Drinking water that is contaminated with arsenic may lead to thickening of the heart's main pumping chamber in young adults, according to a new study by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
New health calculator can help predict heart disease risk, estimate heart age
A new online health calculator can help people determine their risk of heart disease, as well as their heart age, accounting for sociodemographic factors such as ethnicity, sense of belonging and education, as well as health status and lifestyle behaviors.
Wide variation in rate of death between VA hospitals for patients with heart disease, heart failure
Death rates for veterans with ischemic heart disease and chronic heart failure varied widely across the Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system from 2010 to 2014, which could suggest differences in the quality of cardiovascular health care provided by VA medical centers.
Heart failure: The Alzheimer's disease of the heart?
Similar to how protein clumps build up in the brain in people with some neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, protein clumps appear to accumulate in the diseased hearts of mice and people with heart failure, according to a team led by Johns Hopkins University researchers.
Women once considered low risk for heart disease show evidence of previous heart attack scars
Women who complain about chest pain often are reassured by their doctors that there is no reason to worry because their angiograms show that the women don't have blockages in the major heart arteries, a primary cause of heart attacks in men.
More Heart Disease News and Heart Disease Current Events

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

Erasing The Stigma
Many of us either cope with mental illness or know someone who does. But we still have a hard time talking about it. This hour, TED speakers explore ways to push past — and even erase — the stigma. Guests include musician and comedian Jordan Raskopoulos, neuroscientist and psychiatrist Thomas Insel, psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda, anxiety and depression researcher Olivia Remes, and entrepreneur Sangu Delle.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...