Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine last month indicates that unrecognized low-grade inflammation may be a powerful risk factor for early heart attack and stroke. Such inflammation can often be detected by a blood test measuring your C-reactive protein (CRP) level. Many researchers believe that elevated CRP could be a greater risk factor than elevated cholesterol in your blood.
Excess CRP does not pinpoint location since it is a non-specific marker for inflammation anywhere in your body. But if you have an elevated level and have no symptoms anywhere, then periodontal disease is a very likely source. Gingivitis and periodontitis are chronic bacterial infections that can lead to tooth loss. It is believed that, over time, these bacteria may slip into the blood stream and trigger inflammation in the arteries to the brain and heart.
Dr. Kaumudi Joshipura, at Harvard, followed 41,380 men aged 40 to 75 for twelve years. She has just reported that men who had 24 or fewer teeth (a full set is 32) had 57% more strokes. Most tooth loss was due to gum disease or cavities. Other researchers have demonstrated a strong but not yet necessarily causal relationship between periodontal disease and serious cardiac problems.
Patients who have periodontal disease, and in whom CRP is elevated, have been shown to normalize their CRP levels when periodontal treatment is administered. There is much research activity ongoing in the relationship of flossing to periodontitis, of periodontal disease to CRP, and to CRP as it relates to heart disease and stroke. The findings, while consistent, are still preliminary. While waiting for conclusive proof, why not floss daily, have routine dental cleanings, and keep in regular touch with your dentist?
And, between visits, keep working out regularly. A late November report from Dr. Timothy Church in the American Heart Association Journal indicates that the most fit of 722 men studied were 83% less likely to have high CRP than the least fit.
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