Study links childhood oral infections and adult carotid atherosclerosis

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Study links childhood oral infections and adult carotid atherosclerosis

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In a 27-year follow-up study, Finnish researchers have made a link between childhood oral infections and adult carotid atherosclerosis. (Photograph: Eva Vargyasi/Shutterstock)

HELSINKI, Finland: The importance of good oral health from a young age is a message that still needs to reach many people. Recently, a Finnish 27-year follow-up study has revealed that common oral infections in childhood, such as caries and periodontal diseases, are associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis in adulthood, a finding which researchers believe emphasises the importance of quality childhood oral care.

Researchers from the University of Helsinki’s Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Diseases, in collaboration with the research group taking part in the national Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study, initiated the study in 1980. At that time, clinical oral examinations were conducted for 755 children aged 6, 9 and 12 years. At different periods, cardiovascular risk factors were measured, with the follow-up taking place 27 years later 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 signs of oral infection and inflammation identified in the study included caries, fillings, bleeding on probing and probing pocket depth. Out of all the children, 68 per cent had bleeding, 87 per cent had caries and 82 per cent had fillings. With these findings, there were no differences between boys and girls. According to the study results, light periodontal pocketing was observed in 54 per cent of the children and this was more frequent in boys than in girls. Additionally, only 5 per cent of the examined mouths were totally healthy, whereas 61 per cent of the children had one to three signs of oral infection and 34 per cent had four.

The researchers also found that both caries and periodontal diseases in childhood were significantly associated with carotid artery intima-media thickness in adulthood. They noted that thickening of the carotid artery wall indicates the progression of atherosclerosis and an increased risk for myocardial or cerebral infarction.

“The number of signs is associated significantly with the cumulative exposure to the cardiovascular risk factors in adulthood, but especially in childhood,” said co-author Prof. Markus Juonala from the University of Turku in Finland.

In the conclusion to the study, researchers said that oral infections were an independent risk factor for subclinical atherosclerosis and that their association with cardiovascular risk factors had persevered throughout the entire follow-up.

The study, titled “Association of childhood oral infections with cardiovascular risk factors and subclinical atherosclerosis in adulthood”, was published online in JAMA Network Open on 26 April 2019.

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