According to a study carried out at the University of Helsinki and published in the July issue of the Journal of Dental Research, an infection of the root tip of a tooth increases the risk of coronary artery disease, even if the infection is symptomless.
Hidden dental root tip infections are very common: as many as one in four Finns suffer from at least one such infection—usually detected by chance from an X-ray.
“Acute coronary syndrome is 2.7 times more common among patients with untreated teeth in need of root canal treatment than among patients without this issue,” said researcher John Liljestrand.
Dental root tip infection, or apical periodontitis, is most commonly caused by tooth decay and is a bodily defence reaction against microbial infection in the dental pulp.
In the study, 508 Finnish patients at a mean age of 62 years who were all experiencing heart problems underwent examination of their coronary arteries by means of angiography. This revealed that 36 per cent had stable coronary artery disease (CAD), 33 per cent had acute coronary syndrome (ACS) and 31 per cent had no significant coronary artery disease.
When the patients’ teeth and jaws were examined, the researchers found that up to 58 per cent had at least one inflammatory lesion, a sign of apical periodontitis.
The results showed that patients with apical periodontitis were more likely to have CAD or ACS; this association was strongest for patients whose apical periodontitis was untreated and required a root canal, with a 2.7 times greater risk of ACS.
Based on their findings, the researchers believe apical periodontitis can be considered a risk factor for heart disease:
“Our findings support the hypothesis that ELs [endodontic lesions] are independently associated with CAD and, in particular, with ACS. This is of high interest from a public health perspective, considering the high prevalence of ELs and CAD.”