Page last updated at 23:29 GMT, Monday, 25 May 2009 00:29 UK

Gene links heart and gum disease

Peridontitis is caused by a bacterial infection

A genetic link between dental disease and heart attacks has been found by German researchers.

Gum disease - periodontitis - is known to be associated with heart disease but how exactly they are linked is unknown.

Now the University of Kiel team has found a common gene mutation in people with periodontitis and heart attack patients, a conference heard.

Study leader Dr Arne Schaefer said gum disease should be taken very seriously and treated as early as possible.

Both coronary heart disease (CHD) and periodontitis are associated with the same risk factors - most importantly smoking, diabetes and obesity.

Now we know for sure that there is a strong genetic link, patients with periodontitis should try to reduce their risk factors and take preventive measures at an early stage
Study leader, Dr Arne Schaefer

Researchers have shown similarities between the bacteria found in the oral cavity and those in coronary plaques and both diseases are characterised by an imbalanced immune reaction and chronic inflammation.

One theory is that the bacteria involved in gum disease trigger a low grade inflammatory response throughout the body, prompting changes in the arteries leading to strokes and heart attacks.

Another possibility is that bacteria disturbs the way blood vessels dilate directly, since some bacteria can enter the bloodstream.

Genetic link

Speaking at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Genetics in Vienna, study leader Dr Arne Schaefer from the University of Kiel said his team found the gene linking the conditions on chromosome 9.

It had already been associated with heart attacks but in the latest study was found both in a group of 1,097 patients with heart disease and in 151 patients with the most aggressive early-onset forms of periodontitis.

The genetic variation was identical in both diseases and the researchers confirmed the association in further groups of 1,100 CHD patients and 180 periodontitis patients.

Although it is known what protein the gene encodes it is not yet clear how this is linked with the conditions.

"Now we know for sure that there is a strong genetic link, patients with periodontitis should try to reduce their risk factors and take preventive measures at an early stage", said Dr Schaefer.

"We hope that our findings will make it easier to diagnose the disease at an early stage, and that in future a greater insight into the specific pathophysiology might open the way to effective treatment before the disease can take hold."

"In the meantime, because of its association with CHD, we think that periodontitis should be taken very seriously by dentists and diagnosed and treated as early as possible."

Dr Francesco D'Aiuto, clinical lecturer at the UCL Eastman Dental Institute, said the study had focused on a particularly aggressive form of periodontitis but the findings take researchers a step closer to working out how the two diseases are linked.

"We will be looking closely looking at this novel genetic variant to see if the finding can be replicated in the UK population.

"There l great interest whether this genetic locus is associated not only with aggressive forms of periodontitis but also with the more common chronic form, which is present in some form in at least 10-20% of the UK population."

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