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The Whole Tooth: Gum Disease and Atrial Fibrillation

By Dr. Robert Kelly, D.M.D.

The Whole Tooth: Gum Disease and Atrial Fibrillation

At first glance, reading the title of my article “Gum Disease and Atrial Fibrillation” might bring up thoughts about two totally separate diseases.

Gum and Periodontal Disease is an inflammatory condition in our mouth and Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) is a type of irregular heartbeat. These are two totally separate organ systems in our body that are not next to each other.

However, like everything in our body, we can also look at things holistically as we now know that things can be connected where something happening in one part of the body directly or indirectly affects another part.
According to a new research publication in the Journal of the American Heart Association, treating gum disease within the three month time period after having a procedure called an ablation to correct an irregular heart rhythm may lower the chance of it happening again.

AFib is a condition where the heart beats irregularly and can increase the risk of stroke by five times. More than 12 million people in the US are expected to have AFib by 2030. One procedure to correct it is called an ablation which uses a radiofrequency catheter to destroy a small area of the heart tissue that is causing the irregularity.

According to statistics from the CDC, periodontal or gum disease affects about half of adults over the age of 30. It affects more than half of the adult population when you get much older than age 30.

This study looked at 97 patients who had an ablation and underwent treatment for gum inflammation and 191 ablation patients who did not receive treatment for gum disease. It found, after follow-up of up to two years, that AFib recurred in 24% of the participants. However, it found that the group that had severe gum inflammation and pursued dental treatment for it fared much better, with a 61% less likely chance of having a recurrence of AFib. They also found that the patients who had recurrences of AFib had more severe gum disease than those who did not.

It is not known with certainty how gum or periodontal diseases affect cardiovascular health. However, it is known that bacteria from inflamed gum tissue can travel in our bloodstream to the rest of the body, including the heart and brain. Chronic gum inflammation can be associated with coronary artery disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

True overall health and wellness involves taking care of our whole body and taking a holistic approach to all of our different organs and systems.

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