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Inflammation is a well-known cause of atherosclerosis or “hardening of the arteries” and heart disease. There are many causes of inflammation in humans including obesity, cigarette smoking, cancer, and diabetes. A few months ago, a very interesting study was published in The American Journal of Medicine. The authors looked at another potential source of inflammation, namely dental plaque and poor dental hygiene.     Although the study was small, the authors divided the volunteers into two groups. One group used a plaque-identifying toothpaste and the other group, a similar-looking placebo toothpaste. Over the course of the study they measured high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, or hs-CRP. Hs-CRP is a non-specific indicator of inflammation and can be elevated in many conditions including smoking, obesity, diabetes, autoimmune diseases like lupus and scleroderma, and cancer. Sure enough they found that those people with dental plaque or poor oral hygiene had higher levels of hs-CRP. The authors concluded the article by suggesting that a larger study should be performed to assess whether poor dental hygiene was associated with heart disease.

Not long ago, a similar study called the Justification for the Use of Statins in Primary Prevention: Intervention Trial Evaluating Rosuvastatin (JUPITER) was published. Recent evidence has been mounting that statins, in this case rosuvastatin or Crestor, are very helpful in preventing heart disease in those without it and preventing worsening disease in those with it. In JUPITER the authors measured hs-CRP levels in those given rosuvastatin against the control group that was given placebo. It turned out that the study was terminated early because the hs-CRP levels in the group given the statin dropped precipitously. The use of statins has been growing tremendously as almost everyone diagnosed with heart disease is placed on a statin and many doctors are giving statins to patients who have mild lipid elevations because of the statin’s protective effect in developing heart disease.

It is becoming more apparent that inflammation in humans has many deleterious effects including heart disease and inflammation and is being linked to other diseases including autoimmune diseases and cancers. Reducing that inflammation, will help reduce the incidence of many diseases. It is possible that one day not too far off, a visit to the dentist will help prevent heart disease. In the interim it is important to see your dentist at least annually for a dental exam and cleaning as this promotes good oral hygiene and provides early detection of oral and mouth cancers.

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