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Researchers say a mouth rinse may be effective in determining heart disease risk. Thomas Winz/Getty Images
  • Researchers report that a simple mouth rinse that checks white blood cell levels may be helpful in predicting heart disease.
  • They say the rinse can detect gum inflammation that can lead to periodontitis, a condition linked to cardiovascular disease.
  • Experts say you can lower your risk of gum disease by not smoking as well as brushing and flossing your teeth regularly.

A simple oral rinse to check levels of white blood cells might be able to predict the risk of heart disease, according to a study published August 18 in the journal Frontiers of Oral Health.

Gum inflammation can lead to periodontitis, which is linked to heart disease.

The researchers evaluated younger adults without diagnosed periodontal problems to determine if lower levels of oral inflammation can be clinically relevant to cardiovascular health.

In the pilot study, researchers assessed 28 non-smokers between the ages of 18 and 30 without co-morbid conditions or medications that could affect cardiovascular risk.

The researchers used a simple oral rinse to measure the level of white blood cells in the saliva of healthy adults to see if there was a connection to heart disease. The process was as follows:

  • Each participant fasted for 6 hours before visiting the lab.
  • They then rinsed their mouth with water.
  • Then they rinsed with a saline solution.
  • The researchers collected saline for analysis.
  • The participants laid down for 10 minutes before having an electrocardiogram completed.
  • They remained lying down for another 10 minutes.
  • Researchers measured blood pressure, flow-mediated dilation, and pulse-wave velocity.

The scientists reported that high white blood cells in saliva had a significant relationship to poor flow-mediated dilation, suggesting an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease.

However, there wasn’t a relationship between white blood cells and pulse-wave velocity, indicating long-term impacts on the arteries had not yet occurred.

“This could be because the participants were young and relatively healthy,” said Dr. Rigved Tadwalkar, a cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, who was not involved in the study.

“I think it would be helpful to see a more varied group of participants in age and health status,” he told Medical News Today.

Flow-mediated dilation refers to the widening of an artery when blood flow increases.

Pulse-wave velocity measures arterial stiffness and is an independent predictor of cardiovascular risk.

Lifestyle changes, healthy diet, exercise routines, and managing blood pressure and cholesterol can improve pulse-wave velocity.

The researchers hypothesized that inflammation from the mouth could leak into the vascular system and impact the arteries’ ability to produce nitric oxide, reducing their ability to respond to changes in blood flow.

Higher levels of white blood cells would cause a higher level of vascular dysfunction.

“This type of screening is a very good idea,” Peggy Budhu, DDS, a dentist at the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone in New York, not involved in the study, told MNT.

“It reminds me of the early days of HIV rapid testing in different clinical settings. Dental clinics were offering screening for HIV when it was difficult to get tested.”

“The preliminary results are promising, but a larger sample size is necessary. I would like to see more data with a larger sample size, a sample of patients with treated periodontal disease and patients with active disease. I would offer this as a screening test once we have more data and more studies on the correlation between the saliva test and the incidence of cardiovascular disease.”

— Peggy Budhu, dentist

“Periodontal disease is a chronic oral infection,” said Constantine Pavlakos, DDS, a diplomate of the American Board of Periodontology.

“This can lead to inflammatory responses resulting in the destruction of the periodontium and can also mitigate systemic effects. The onset of periodontal inflammation is triggered by microbial colonization in the gingival unit.”

“There are numerous studies in the literature that have suggested a correlation between periodontitis and systemic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and preterm low-weight births,” Pavlakos told MNT.

The condition is caused by plaque that has hardened to form tartar, which requires professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist.

In its more severe form, the gums pull away from the tooth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When this occurs, bone can be lost, and the teeth may loosen or fall out.

Periodontal disease is more common in males than females, those living below the poverty level, current smokers, and those with less than a high school diploma.

More than 47% of adults 30 and over have some form of the disease.

According to the CDC, some early warning signs of periodontal disease include:

  • bad breath or bad taste that won’t go away
  • red or swollen gums
  • tender or bleeding gums
  • painful chewing
  • loose teeth
  • sensitive teeth
  • gums that have pulled away from your teeth
  • any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • any change in the fit of partial dentures

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), you can reduce the risk of developing periodontal disease by:

  • brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste
  • flossing regularly to remove plaque from between teeth
  • visiting your dentist at least once a year, more often if you have any warning signs
  • quitting smoking

Maintaining oral health may help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and also improve overall health. In some cases, deep cleaning or surgery can help restore dental health.

However, because this is a progressive disease, it is essential to see your dentist or periodontist on a regular basis.