A new study has found a link between the gum disease periodontitis and atrial fibrillation, a condition that can lead to an irregular heartbeat.

The Japanese research found that periodontitis is associated with atrial fibrillation, but the team said they have not yet proved if one leads to the other.

The study involved 76 people with cardiac disease, with surgeons removing their left atrial appendages so they could be analysed to see if there is a link between severe atrial fibrosis and severe gum disease.

What is periodontitis?

Periodontitis is a gum illness that damages the teeth’s supporting components, such as the gums, periodontal ligaments, and alveolar bone.

It is caused by inflammation and infection of the tissues that surround and support the teeth, which generally occurs as a result of bacterial accumulation on the teeth and gums over time.

Link in severity

A key finding was that in cases where the periodontitis was worse, the fibrosis was worse too.

First author Assistant Professor Shunsuke Miyauchi, from Hiroshima University, said: “Periodontitis is associated with a long-standing inflammation, and inflammation plays a key role in atrial fibrosis progression and atrial fibrillation pathogenesis.

“We hypothesized that periodontitis exacerbates atrial fibrosis. This histological study of left atrial appendages aimed to clarify the relationship between clinical periodontitis status and degree of atrial fibrosis.”

Fibrosis is when the appendage of the heart’s left atrium becomes scarred, which can lead to an irregular heartbeat, a condition known as atrial fibrillation.

Corresponding author Professor Yukiko Nakano said: “This study provides basic evidence that periodontitis can aggravate atrial fibrosis and can be a novel modifiable risk factor for atrial fibrillation.”

“Further evidence is required for establishing that periodontitis contributes to the atrial fibrosis in a causal manner and that periodontal care can alter fibrosis.

“One of our goals is to confirm that periodontitis is a modifiable risk factor for atrial fibrillation and to promote dental specialists’ participation in comprehensive atrial fibrillation management. Periodontitis is an easy modifiable target with lower cost among known atrial fibrillation risk factors. Thus, the achievement of this study series may bring benefits for many people worldwide.”

Read the study in the journal JACC: Clinical Electrophysiology.

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