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Small bacteria, big impact

Researchers are taking a closer look at possible links between the bacteria in gum disease and systemic conditions like coronary artery disease and preeclampsia.

The bacteria in gum disease—also known as periodontal disease—may have an impact on general health conditions.

In one of two studies published this month in the Journal of Periodontology, scientists looked at the bacteria in the arteries of patients diagnosed with coronary artery disease. They were able to identify periodontal pathogens in the coronary and internal mammary arteries in 9 of 15 of the patients.

In the other study, researchers evaluated women who had suffered from preeclampsia during their pregnancy, a condition which is characterized by an abrupt rise in blood pressure that affects about 5 percent of pregnancies. The study concluded that 50 percent of the placentas in women with preeclampsia were positive for one or more periodontal pathogens—compared with just 14.3 percent in the control group.

Researchers have long suspected that periodontal bacteria play a role in possible connections between oral health and overall health, and both of these studies support that concept.

"These studies are just a few in the growing body of evidence on the mouth-body connection," said Dr. Preston D. Miller Jr., president of the American Academy of Periodontology.

"More research is needed to fully understand how periodontal bacteria travels from the mouth to other parts of the body as well as the exact role it has in the development of these systemic diseases," said Dr. Miller. "In the meantime, it is important for physicians, dental professionals and patients alike to monitor the research in this area as it continues to grow so they can better work together to achieve the highest levels of overall health."

The AAP's Web site offers a free risk assessment test for patients to determine if they are at risk for periodontal disease. Go to "www.perio.org/consumer/4a.html" to take the test.

For more information about preventing gum disease, go to "www.ada.org".

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

06/25/07

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