Researchers have found a correlation between periodontitis and fibrosis scarring to an appendage of the heart’s left atrium that can lead to atrial fibrillation (AF) in a sample of 76 patients with cardiac disease.
Periodontitis, a gum disease, can cause various dental problems such as bad breath, bleeding gums, and tooth loss. Additionally, research suggests it may also be linked to more serious health issues, such as those related to the heart.
“Periodontitis is associated with a long-standing inflammation, and inflammation plays a key role in atrial fibrosis progression and AF pathogenesis,” researchers from Hiroshima University (Higashihiroshima, Japan), report in JACC: Clinical Electrophysiology. The researchers hypothesised that periodontitis exacerbates atrial fibrosis, and in a 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.
The study provides basic evidence that periodontitis can aggravate atrial fibrosis and can be a novel modifiable risk factor for AF. According to researchers, for improving other risk factors such as weight, activity levels, tobacco and alcohol use, periodontal care could aid in comprehensive atrial fibrillation management. However, the researchers cautioned that 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.
While research suggests a connection between periodontitis and atrial fibrosis, further evidence is needed to establish a causal relationship and to determine if periodontal care can reduce fibrosis. The goal of the study is to confirm that periodontitis is a modifiable risk factor for AF and to encourage dental specialists to play a role in comprehensive management. Periodontitis is an easily modifiable risk factor with lower cost compared to other known AF risk factors, thus the results of this study could have a significant impact on the health of people worldwide.
Next, the researchers said they hope to conduct future clinical trials to clarify if periodontal intervention reduces AF occurrence and improves patient outcomes.