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Tuesday, 4 April, 2000, 16:56 GMT 17:56 UK
Dental x-rays 'give heart attack warning'
X-ray
Dental x-rays could highlight heart attack danger
Routine dental x-rays could provide accurate early-warning of heart attack and stroke risk, say researchers.

Signs of calcium build-up in the carotid arteries - large blood vessels on either side of the neck - can be revealed by wide-angle images taken to show the condition of teeth and surrounding bone.

The carotid arteries carry blood from the heart to the brain and clogged arteries are a key cause of cardiovascular - heart and brain - disease but are often not detected in time.

The information from the x-rays could therefore provide a vital predictor of whether a person is at risk of heart attack or stroke.

Researchers from the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine carried out the study by looking at the Pima Indians of Arizona, who have high incidence of Type II diabetes and low rates of smoking.

Type II diabetes and smoking both increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Dental x-rays taken between 1983 and 1990 were compared with death statistics available up to 1998 and other information.

Calcification

They looked at 818 participants for evidence of calcification - a build-up of calcium - in the arteries.

Calcification was found in 7.5% of the study group, while calcified plaque is found in only about 3% of the general population.

Comparing calcification with the cause of death, they found that people with plaque in the carotid arteries were twice as likely to die from heart attack or stroke as those with no plaque.

Dr Laurie Carter, at the university, told the International Association for Dental Research: "Results of this study move us closer to the use of panoramic dental radiographs as a screening tool for all cardiovascular disease."

The Stroke Association said it understood dental x-rays were done differently in the UK and that they did not show the carotid arteries as a result. Ultrasound scans already available showed up dangerous build-up in the arteries.

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