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More oral bacteria, higher risk of heart attack

Researchers are getting closer to defining the relationship between the organisms that cause periodontal disease and the development of heart disease. Several studies have suggested there is a connection between the two; however, few have tested the theory.

A study conducted by researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo has now shown that two oral pathogens in the mouth were associated with an increased risk of having a heart attack, but that the total number of germs — regardless of type — was more important to heart health.

"The message here is that even though some specific periodontal pathogens have been found to be associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, the total bacterial pathogenic burden is more important than the type of bacteria," said Dr. Oelisoa M. Andriankaja, who conducted the study in the UB School of Dental Medicine's Department of Oral Biology as a postdoctoral researcher.

"In other words, the total number of 'bugs' is more important than one single organism," said Dr. Andriankaja.

The study involved 386 men and women between the ages of 35-69 who had suffered a heart attack, and 840 people free of heart trouble who served as controls. Samples of dental plaque where germs adhere were collected from 12 sites in the gums of all participants. Researchers analyzed the samples for the presence of the six common types of periodontal bacteria, and the total number of bacteria.

Their analysis showed that the patients harbored more of each type of bacteria than the controls. However, only two species, known as Tannerella Forsynthesis and Preventella Intermedia, had a statistically significant association with an increased risk of heart attack. An increase in the number of different periodontal bacteria also increased the odds of having a heart attack, results showed.

Dr. Andriankaja emphasized that prospective studies that measure oral bacteria in participants who have had no heart problems when they enter the study, and again when a heart attack occurs in a participant, are needed to better assess this potential association.

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