Periodontitis is a common infection of the gums that has previously been linked to the development of cardiovascular disease. A team of scientists from Canadian universities set out to study young, healthy people without diagnosed periodontal issues to determine whether lower levels of oral inflammation can be clinically relevant to cardiovascular health.
To identify key indicators of cardiovascular risk, the team used pulse-wave velocity to measure the stiffness of arteries and flow-mediated dilation to measure of how well arteries can dilate to allow for higher blood flow. These processes measure arterial health directly, showing that stiff and poorly functioning arteries raise a patient’s risk of cardiovascular disease.
The scientists recruited 28 non-smokers between 18 and 30, with no comorbidities or medications that could affect cardiovascular risk and no reported history of periodontal disease. They were asked to fast for six hours, except for drinking water, prior to visiting the lab. At the lab, participants rinsed their mouths with water before rinsing their mouths with saline, which was collected for analysis. Participants then laid down for 10 minutes for an electrocardiogram, and stayed lying down for another 10 minutes so that the scientists could take their blood pressure, flow-mediated dilation, and pulse-wave velocity.
The scientists found that high white blood cells in saliva had a significant relationship to poor flow-mediated dilation, suggesting these people may be at elevated risk of cardiovascular disease. However, there was no relationship between white blood cells and pulse wave velocity, so longer-term impacts on the health of the arteries had not yet taken place.
The scientists hypothesised that inflammation from the mouth, leaking into the vascular system, impacts the ability of arteries to produce the nitric oxide that allows them to respond to changes in blood flow.