P. gingivalis: Bad for Your Gums, Bad for Your Heart

by | Jul 25, 2018 | Oral Health, Periodontal Health

Chances are, you already know that good oral health is essential to overall health. But did you know that gum disease is more common in heart attack patients than in healthy individuals?

Not only are both conditions marked by chronic inflammation; many of the bacteria involved in gum disease also appear to play a role in the progression of heart disease.

P. gingivalisOf particular concern is a bacterium called Porphyromonas gingivalis, or P. gingivalis for short. It’s one of the main players in gum disease, leading to the destruction of soft tissues “either directly or indirectly by modulating the host inflammatory response,” in the words of one review of the science.

It also appears to inhibit blood vessel healing, according to new research presented this past spring at the Frontiers in Cardiovascular Biology Congress in Vienna, Austria.

As Dr. Bicuspid reported,

French researchers tested their theory that Porphyromonas gingivalis bacteria enter a patient’s bloodstream through bleeding gums and then attach to atherosclerotic or clogged arteries, which hampers the healing process after a heart attack or similar event.

“Our previous research in rats found periodontal bacteria in severely atherosclerotic arteries, suggesting that these bacteria may be the link between gum disease and cardiovascular disease,” noted Sandrine Delbosc, PhD, in a statement by the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).

So they took mice that already had atherosclerosis and gave them weekly injections of either P. gingivalis or saline (as a control) for four weeks. Seventy percent of the infected mice died as opposed to 35% of mice in the control group. Cause of death? Aortic ruptures.

Subsequent analysis in mouse cells showed that gingipain, an enzyme produced by P. gingivalis, inhibited immune cells’ repair function. The role of gingipain was crucial, Dr. Delbosc noted.

“Our study shows that the bacteria that cause gum disease impair the healing and repair of arteries,” she stated. “This impaired healing may be due to an enzyme produced by the bacteria that stops the body’s immune cells from repairing the arteries.”

Findings like these suggest that good oral hygiene and treatment of any gum disease may be even more critical for patients with cardiovascular issues.

Of course, this is hardly the first time we’ve seen a link between periodontal and systemic disease. For instance,

  • Back in May, we looked at P. gingivalis as one of the possible links between chronic gum disease and rheumatoid arthritis. In this case, another P. gingivalis enzyme was involved: peptidylarginine deiminase.

  • We’ve seen how P. gingivalis, among other oral pathogens, may contribute to pneumonia in intensive care patients.

  • We’ve also seen that P. gingivalis is one of 53 bacteria that commonly infect root canal treated teeth, which are also linked to systemic disease. It’s known to alter the integrity of the endothelial lining of blood vessels, which leads to inflammation and bleeding – “the key step in formation of atherogenesis that leads to heart attacks.”

But keep harmful microbes such as this one under control – through good hygiene, good nutrition, and an overall healthy lifestyle – and you go a long way toward reducing your risk of the systemic problems they continue to be linked to.

Image via MicrobeWiki

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