Study Says Mouth Rinse Could Detect Early Signs of Heart Disease

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In the wake of growing evidence indicating a link between oral and cardiovascular health, a new study suggests that a simple mouth rinse could show early warning signs of cardiovascular disease.

According to the study, published in Frontiers in Oral Health, levels of white blood cells, an indicator of gum inflammation, can be measured through saliva samples. Researchers found that higher levels of white blood cells correlated with compromised flow-mediated dilation, a warning sign of poor arterial health.

The investigation studied healthy young adults without diagnosed periodontitis, a common infection of the gums caused by gum inflammation, which scientists have linked to cardiovascular disease. In doing so, researchers aimed to determine whether lower levels of oral inflammation can be clinically relevant to cardiovascular health.

"Even in young, healthy adults, low levels of oral inflammatory load may have an impact on cardiovascular health, one of the leading causes of death in North America,” said the study’s corresponding author, Trevor King, PhD, of Mount Royal University.

Included in the trial were 28 non-smokers between the ages of 18 and 30 with no comorbidities or medication known to impact cardiovascular risk. Before visiting the lab, the participants were asked to fast for six hours, except for drinking water.

At the lab, participants washed their mouths with water before rinsing them with saline, which was collected for analysis. Next, participants laid down for ten minutes for an electrocardiogram. Then, the participants continued to lie down for another ten minutes while researchers measured their blood pressure, flow-mediated dilation, and pulse-wave velocity. According to the study’s authors, these tests directly measure arterial health and indicate whether patients have stiff or poorly functioning arteries, which would increase their risk of cardiovascular disease.

The results showed that high levels of white blood cells in saliva were strongly associated with poor flow-mediated dilation, suggesting patients who fit that profile may have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. However, researchers found no link between white blood cell count and pulse wave velocity, meaning that patients with high white blood cell counts had no long-term damage to their arteries.

“We are starting to see more relationships between oral health and risk of cardiovascular disease,” said Ker-Yung Hong, first author of the study, now studying dentistry at the University of Western Ontario. "If we are seeing that oral health may have an impact on the risk of developing cardiovascular disease even in young, healthy individuals, this holistic approach can be implemented earlier on."

According to King, these findings highlight the importance of oral hygiene and the need for further research into the connection between oral and cardiovascular health.

“Optimal oral hygiene is always recommended in addition to regular visits to the dentist, especially in light of this evidence,” said King. “But this study was a pilot study. We are hoping to increase the study population and explore those results. We are also hoping to include more individuals with gingivitis and more advanced periodontitis to more deeply understand the impact of different levels of gingival inflammation on cardiovascular measures.”