[Dec. 31, 2023: JD Shavit, The Brighter Side of News]
Nearly a dozen genes, previously unlinked to coronary artery health, have been identified as contributors to the accumulation of calcium. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)
Cardiovascular disease continues to be a leading cause of death in North America, but what if a simple saliva sample could provide early warning signs of this silent killer?
Researchers believe they may have uncovered a promising link between gum inflammation, white blood cell levels in saliva, and cardiovascular health. In a study recently published in Frontiers in Oral Health, scientists from Mount Royal University, led by Dr. Trevor King, explored this intriguing connection.
Periodontitis, a common gum infection, has previously been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Scientists suspect that inflammatory factors from the gums could enter the bloodstream and harm the vascular system.
To investigate whether lower levels of oral inflammation could be clinically relevant to cardiovascular health, King's team selected a group of young, healthy individuals without diagnosed periodontal issues.
Dr. Ker-Yung Hong, the study's first author, emphasized the importance of this research, stating, "We are starting to see more relationships between oral health and the risk of cardiovascular disease. If we are seeing that oral health may have an impact on the risk of developing cardiovascular disease even in young healthy individuals, this holistic approach can be implemented earlier on."
The study focused on two critical indicators of cardiovascular risk: pulse-wave velocity, which measures arterial stiffness, and flow-mediated dilation, a measure of how effectively arteries can dilate to facilitate increased blood flow. Stiff and poorly functioning arteries are known to elevate the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The research included 28 non-smokers aged 18 to 30, with no underlying health conditions or medications affecting cardiovascular risk, and no reported history of periodontal disease. Participants fasted for six hours before visiting the lab, where they rinsed their mouths with saline, providing samples for analysis. Subsequently, they underwent various tests, including electrocardiograms, blood pressure measurements, flow-mediated dilation assessments, and pulse-wave velocity measurements.
Relationship between oral neutrophil count and pulse-wave velocity (PWV). There was not a significant relationship between neutrophil count and PWV in all participants (n = 28, p = 0.3, R2 = 0.045). (CREDIT: Frontier)
Dr. Michael Glogauer of the University of Toronto, a co-author of the study, suggested the practicality of the mouth rinse test, saying, "The mouth rinse test could be used at your annual checkup at the family doctor's or the dentist. It is easy to implement as an oral inflammation measuring tool in any clinic."
The study's findings were compelling. High levels of white blood cells in saliva correlated with poor flow-mediated dilation, suggesting that individuals with elevated white blood cell counts in their saliva may be at a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease. However, no such relationship was found between white blood cells and pulse-wave velocity, indicating that longer-term effects on arterial health had not yet occurred.
Comparison of healthy and inflamed gingiva and implications each has on future development of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). (CREDIT: Frontier)
The researchers hypothesized that inflammation from the mouth, leaking into the vascular system, might hinder arteries' ability to produce nitric oxide, a vital molecule that helps arteries respond to changes in blood flow. Although the white blood cell levels found in the study participants are not typically considered clinically significant, this discovery highlights the importance of optimal oral hygiene and regular dental visits.
Dr. King emphasized that this study was a pilot investigation, with plans to expand the study population and include individuals with varying levels of gingival inflammation to gain deeper insights into the impact on cardiovascular health. While more research is needed, this innovative approach to early cardiovascular disease detection could potentially revolutionize preventive healthcare, giving individuals a vital head start in managing their heart health.
For more science and technology stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.
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