Gum infection may be a risk factor for heart arrhythmia, researchers find

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Periodontitis can lead to a litany of dental issues from bad breath to bleeding and lost teeth. Now, researchers in Japan have found that it could be connected to even more severe problems elsewhere in the heart.

In a study published in JACC: Clinical Electrophysiologya team at Hiroshima University found a significant correlation between periodontitis and fibrosis—scarring to an appendage of the heart’s left atrium that can lead to an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation—in a sample of 76 patients with cardiac disease.

“Periodontitis is associated with a longstanding inflammation, and inflammation plays a key role in atrial fibrosis progression and atrial fibrillation pathogenesis,” first author A/Prof Shunsuke Miyauchi said. 

“We hypothesised that periodontitis exacerbates atrial fibrosis. This histological study of left atrial appendages aimed to clarify the relationship between clinical periodontitis status and degree of atrial fibrosis.”

The left atrial appendages were surgically removed from the patients, and the researchers analysed the tissue to establish the correlation between severity of the atrial fibrosis and severity of the gum disease. They found that the worse the periodontitis, the worse the fibrosis, suggesting that the inflammation of gums may intensify inflammation and disease in the heart.

“This study provides basic evidence that periodontitis can aggravate atrial fibrosis and can be a novel modifiable risk factor for atrial fibrillation,” corresponding author Professor Yukiko Nakano said.

She added this study did not establish a causal relationship, meaning that while gum disease and atrial fibrosis degrees of severity appear connected, researchers have not found that one definitively leads to the other.

“Further evidence is required for establishing that periodontitis contributes to the atrial fibrosis in a causal manner and that periodontal care can alter fibrosis,” Professor Nakano said. 

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