Childhood oral infections linked to adult atherosclerosis

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 oral infections and atherosclerosis

A Finnish 27-year follow-up study suggests that common oral infections in childhood, caries and periodontal diseases are associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis in adulthood.

The association between childhood oral infections and atherosclerosis was found in a study conducted at the University of Helsinki, Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Diseases, in collaboration with the national Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study research group.

It was published in JAMA Network Open.

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The study was initiated in 1980, when clinical oral examinations were conducted for 755 children aged six, nine and 12 years. The follow-up ended in 2007, when the carotid artery intima-media thickness was measured in an ultrasound examination of participants, who were then 33, 36, and 39 years old.

The follow-up was 27 years, and cardiovascular risk factors were measured at several time points. A cumulative exposure to the risk factor was calculated in both childhood and adulthood. The signs of oral infections and inflammation collected in the study included caries, fillings, bleeding on probing, and probing pocket depth.

From all children, 68, 87 and 82 per cent had bleeding, caries, and fillings, respectively. There were no differences between the boys and the girls. Slight periodontal pocketing was observed in 54 per cent of the children, and it was more frequent in the boys than in the girls. Only five per cent of the examined mouths were totally healthy, whereas 61 and 34 per cent of the children had one to three and four signs of oral infections, respectively.

Both caries and periodontal diseases in childhood were significantly associated with carotid artery intima-media thickness in adulthood. Thickening of the carotid artery wall indicates the progression of atherosclerosis and an increased risk for myocardial or cerebral infarction.

“The observation is novel, since there are no earlier follow-up studies on childhood oral infections and the risk of cardiovascular diseases,” study author Pirkko Pussinen said.

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