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Unlocking the Secrets to Heart Disease Risk through Oral Health : A Groundbreaking Study

The risk of heart disease is a critical concern in public health, as it remains one of the leading causes of mortality worldwide. Understanding and assessing this risk is pivotal in preventing cardiovascular issues and ensuring overall well-being. Various factors, including genetics, lifestyle choices, and existing health conditions, contribute to an individual’s susceptibility. Through comprehensive evaluations and advanced medical tools, healthcare professionals can gauge this risk, allowing for timely interventions and personalized strategies to promote heart health.(1,2,3)

Now, in a recently published study in the journal Frontiers of Oral Health on August 18, scientists have found that a straightforward oral rinse that assesses white blood cell levels may hold the potential to predict the risk of heart disease.(4) The research suggests a connection between gum inflammation, which can progress to periodontitis, and an increased likelihood of heart disease. In this study, younger adults without existing diagnosed periodontal issues were examined to ascertain if reduced levels of oral inflammation could have meaningful implications for cardiovascular well-being. Read on to find out more about how a simple mouth rinse can be a risk prediction method for heart disease.

Gum Disease and Predicting the Risk of Heart Disease

In this pilot study, researchers conducted a meticulous examination of 28 non-smokers aged 18 to 30, ensuring they had no co-existing health conditions or were taking medications that might impact their cardiovascular risk. They employed a simple yet effective method—a thorough oral rinse—to gauge the levels of white blood cells present in the saliva of these healthy participants.(5)

This approach involved a preparatory six-hour fasting period, followed by sequential rinses with water and a saline solution. The researchers collected samples of the saline rinse for detailed analysis. Following this, participants underwent a series of assessments, including an electrocardiogram, as well as measurements of blood pressure, flow-mediated dilation, and pulse-wave velocity, all carried out after a period of rest.(6,7)

The study’s noteworthy discovery was the strong connection between elevated white blood cell counts in saliva and compromised flow-mediated dilation, a signifier of an escalated risk for cardiovascular disease. Intriguingly, no such correlation was observed with pulse-wave velocity, suggesting that any potential long-term effects on the arteries had not yet manifested.

However, some experts have pointed out that this could be attributed to the relatively young and generally healthy status of the participants. They have also suggested that future studies should encompass a more diverse range of participants in terms of age and health status to provide a more comprehensive understanding of these associations. This insightful study highlights the potential of oral health assessments in shedding light on cardiovascular risks, paving the way for further research in this field.

Impact of Oral Inflammation

The study hypothesizes that oral inflammation may potentially infiltrate the vascular system, influencing the arteries’ capacity to generate nitric oxide – a vital compound for regulating blood flow. This impairment in nitric oxide production could subsequently hinder the arteries’ ability to adapt to changes in blood flow, a phenomenon known as flow-mediated dilation.

Concurrently, the researchers investigated pulse-wave velocity, a metric for assessing arterial stiffness which serves as an independent predictor of cardiovascular risk.(8,9) Notably, lifestyle modifications encompassing a balanced diet, regular exercise, and effective management of blood pressure and cholesterol levels have shown promise in improving pulse-wave velocity.(10,11)

While the initial findings are encouraging, experts emphasize the need for a more extensive participant pool to bolster the study’s validity. Further research involving diverse groups, including patients with treated and active periodontal disease, can help. Once more data is available, incorporating this saliva-based screening as a valuable tool in assessing the risk of cardiovascular disease will prove to be important. This potential breakthrough underscores the importance of oral health in understanding and addressing broader cardiovascular concerns.

Understanding More about Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease, commonly referred to as gum disease, is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth. It is caused by bacterial plaque buildup on the teeth and gums. If not properly treated, periodontal disease can lead to the destruction of the gums, ligaments, and bone supporting the teeth, eventually resulting in tooth loss.(12,13)

There are two main stages of periodontal disease: 

  1. Gingivitis: This is the initial stage of gum disease and involves inflammation of the gums. Symptoms may include red, swollen, and bleeding gums, especially during brushing or flossing. Gingivitis is reversible with proper dental care, including regular cleanings and good oral hygiene practices.(14)
  2. Periodontitis: If left untreated, gingivitis can progress into periodontitis. This stage is more severe and involves the destruction of the bone and tissue supporting the teeth. This can lead to loose teeth, gum recession, and other complications.

Certain risk factors can contribute to the development and progression of periodontal disease, including poor oral hygiene, smoking, genetics, hormonal changes (such as those during pregnancy), certain medications, and systemic health conditions like diabetes.(15,16)

Numerous studies have indicated that there is a potential connection between periodontitis and systemic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and preterm low-weight births.(17,18)

In its advanced stage, as noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the gums recede from the teeth, potentially leading to bone loss and even tooth mobility or loss.(19) Periodontal disease exhibits a higher prevalence in males, individuals below the poverty level, current smokers, and those with educational attainment below high school. Surprisingly, over 47% of adults aged 30 and above exhibit some manifestation of this condition.(20)

Regular dental check-ups, professional cleanings, and good oral hygiene habits at home are crucial for preventing and managing periodontal disease. Early detection and treatment are key to preserving oral health and preventing further damage to the teeth and gums.

Importance of Early Detection of Periodontal Disease

Early detection of periodontal disease is crucial for timely intervention and effective management. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), here are some key warning signs to be mindful of:(21)

  • Persistent Bad Breath or Unpleasant Taste: Chronic bad breath or an enduring unpleasant taste in the mouth can be indicative of underlying periodontal issues.
  • Red or Swollen Gums: Inflammation and redness of the gums may signal the presence of gum disease.
  • Tender or Bleeding Gums: Gums that are sensitive to touch or bleed during brushing or flossing could be early signs of periodontal disease.
  • Painful Chewing: Discomfort or pain while chewing can be a result of weakened gum and bone structure.
  • Loose Teeth: Advanced periodontitis can lead to teeth becoming loose or shifting out of position.
  • Tooth Sensitivity: Increased sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures may indicate gum recession, a common aspect of gum disease.
  • Gums Pulling Away from Teeth: As the disease progresses, gums may recede, exposing more of the tooth’s surface.
  • Changes in Dental Occlusion: Any alterations in the way your teeth fit together when you bite down may signal potential gum issues.
  • Adjustments to Partial Dentures: If you wear partial dentures, noticing a change in their fit may indicate gum problems.

The NIH recommends several preventive measures to reduce the risk of developing periodontal disease:(22

  • Regular Brushing: Brush your teeth at least twice a day using fluoride toothpaste to remove plaque and maintain oral hygiene.
  • Flossing: Regular flossing helps remove plaque from between teeth, where a toothbrush may not reach.
  • Regular Dental Check-ups: Visit your dentist at least once a year, and more frequently if you experience any warning signs of gum disease.
  • Quitting Smoking: Smoking is a significant risk factor for periodontal disease, so quitting can greatly benefit oral health.

Maintaining good oral hygiene not only reduces the risk of periodontal disease but also contributes to overall health, potentially lowering the risk of cardiovascular issues. In some cases, deep cleaning or surgical interventions may be recommended to restore dental health. Regular check-ups with your dentist or periodontist are crucial for monitoring and managing the progression of this condition.


The emerging link between oral health and cardiovascular risk prediction presents a surprising and potentially groundbreaking avenue for early detection and prevention of heart disease. The pilot study’s innovative approach, utilizing a simple oral rinse to assess white blood cell levels, hints at the intricate interplay between oral and systemic health. While further research with larger and more diverse participant groups is needed to validate these findings, the implications are profound. This novel screening method not only underscores the importance of oral hygiene but also offers a promising tool for identifying individuals at risk of cardiovascular disease. As science continues to unravel these connections, it holds the potential to revolutionize our approach to heart health, emphasizing the integral role of oral care in our overall well-being.


  1. Heller, R.F., Chinn, S., Pedoe, H.D. and Rose, G., 1984. How well can we predict coronary heart disease? Findings in the United Kingdom Heart Disease Prevention Project. Br Med J (Clin Res Ed), 288(6428), pp.1409-1411.
  2. Bhupathiraju, S.N. and Tucker, K.L., 2011. Coronary heart disease prevention: nutrients, foods, and dietary patterns. Clinica chimica acta, 412(17-18), pp.1493-1514.
  3. Juneau, M., Hayami, D., Gayda, M., Lacroix, S. and Nigam, A., 2014. Provocative issues in heart disease prevention. Canadian Journal of Cardiology, 30(12), pp.S401-S409.
  4. Hong, K., Ghafari, A., Mei, Y., Williams, J., Attia, D., Forsyth, J., Wang, K., Wyeld, T., Sun, C., Glogauer, M. and King, T.J., 2023. Oral inflammatory load predicts vascular function in a young adult population: A pilot study. Frontiers in Oral Health, 4, p.1233881.
  5. Gross, R.E. (2015) How spit heals wounds, Slate Magazine. Available at: https://slate.com/technology/2015/11/spit-heals-wounds-white-blood-cells-in-saliva-mucus.html (Accessed: 08 September 2023).
  6. (No date a) Electrocardiogram – statpearls – NCBI bookshelf – national center for … Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK549803/ (Accessed: 08 September 2023).
  7. (No date a) Academic.oup.com. Available at: https://academic.oup.com/eurheartj/article/40/30/2534/5519997 (Accessed: 08 September 2023).
  8. Sola, J., Rimoldi, S.F. and Allemann, Y., 2010. Ambulatory monitoring of the cardiovascular system: the role of pulse wave velocity. New Developments in Biomedical Engineering, pp.391-424.
  9. Pereira, T., Correia, C. and Cardoso, J., 2015. Novel methods for pulse wave velocity measurement. Journal of medical and biological engineering, 35(5), pp.555-565.
  10. Petersen, K.S., Blanch, N., Keogh, J.B. and Clifton, P.M., 2015. Effect of weight loss on pulse wave velocity: systematic review and meta-analysis. Arteriosclerosis, thrombosis, and vascular biology, 35(1), pp.243-252.
  11. Petersen, K., Blanch, N., Keogh, J. and Clifton, P., 2015. Weight loss, dietary intake and pulse wave velocity. Pulse, 3(2), pp.134-140.
  12. Williams, R.C., 1990. Periodontal disease. New England Journal of Medicine, 322(6), pp.373-382.
  13. Niemiec, B.A., 2008. Periodontal disease. Topics in companion animal medicine, 23(2), pp.72-80.
  14. Page, R.C. and Schroeder, H.E., 1976. Pathogenesis of inflammatory periodontal disease. A summary of current work. Laboratory investigation; a journal of technical methods and pathology, 34(3), pp.235-249.
  15. Genco, R.J. and Borgnakke, W.S., 2013. Risk factors for periodontal disease. Periodontology 2000, 62(1), pp.59-94.
  16. AlJehani, Y.A., 2014. Risk factors of periodontal disease: review of the literature. International journal of dentistry, 2014.
  17. Weidlich, P., Cimões, R., Pannuti, C.M. and Oppermann, R.V., 2008. Association between periodontal diseases and systemic diseases. Brazilian oral research, 22, pp.32-43.
  18. Fowler, E.B., Breault, L.G. and Cuenin, M.F., 2001. Periodontal disease and its association with systemic disease. Military medicine, 166(1), pp.85-89.
  19. Periodontal disease (2013) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/conditions/periodontal-disease.html (Accessed: 08 September 2023).
  20. Eke, P.I. and Genco, R.J., 2007. CDC Periodontal Disease Surveillance Project: background, objectives, and progress report. Journal of periodontology, 78, pp.1366-1371.
  21. Periodontal (gum) disease (no date) National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Available at: https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/health-info/gum-disease (Accessed: 08 September 2023).
  22. Periodontal (gum) disease (no date) National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Available at: https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/health-info/gum-disease (Accessed: 08 September 2023).
Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:September 14, 2023

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