Harvard Men's Health Watch

Hidden tooth infections may be warning sign of heart disease

In the Journals

Gum disease has been linked to a greater risk for heart disease, but a study published online July 27, 2016, by the Journal of Dental Research suggests a type of tooth infection can be just as dangerous.

University of Helsinki researchers found that acute coronary syndrome is 2.7 times more common among people with infections at the tip of a tooth root even if they have no tooth symptoms. Acute coronary syndrome is an umbrella term for a sudden blockage in the blood supply to the heart. Common symptoms are chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, and nausea.

The study involved 508 patients, 36% of whom experienced symptoms of acute coronary syndrome. Dental examinations revealed that 58% of this group suffered from inflammatory lesions at the root tip, a condition called apical periodontitis. This type of low-grade inflammation is similar to that found in gum disease, which affects the tissues around the teeth and is regarded as an independent risk factor for coronary artery disease.

This type of tooth problem is quite common—some estimates suggest one person in four suffers from at least one tooth infection. Cavities are the most common cause, says lead researcher Dr. John Liljestrand, and most infections are detected only by chance on dental x-rays.