A new study has found that measuring the levels of white blood cells in your saliva through a quick and easy 30-second mouth rinse is an effective way of detecting the warning signs of heart disease early, especially in young, otherwise healthy people. The findings may lead to a simple test a doctor or dentist could perform as part of an annual checkup.
Gum disease, also known as periodontitis, has been linked to several other diseases, including cardiovascular disease (CVD), oral and colorectal cancer, lung infection, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. It’s also very common, affecting people of all ages.
Now, researchers from Mount Royal University in Alberta, Canada, have developed a quick, simple, noninvasive way of detecting periodontitis that may expose the risk of CVD in otherwise healthy young adults. And it doesn’t necessarily require a visit to the dentist.
Most previous research has looked at the relationship between oral inflammation and CVD in older populations. So, the researchers decided to examine whether less severe inflammation, common in younger folk, can impact 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 Trevor King, corresponding author of the study.
Oral inflammatory load (OIL) measures the levels of neutrophils, white blood cells that act as the immune system’s first line of defense, to determine the extent of inflammation in the mouth and the presence and severity of periodontal diseases.
The researchers recruited 28 non-smoking male and female participants between 18 and 30 with no reported history of periodontal disease. Participants did not consume food or drink (except water) for six hours and avoided exercise and consuming alcohol- and caffeine-containing food and drink for at least eight hours before providing the sample. After rinsing their mouths with tap water, they swished 10 mL of saline for 30 seconds before expelling the fluid into a collector tube for analysis.
In addition to measuring participants’ blood pressure, the researchers measured arterial health: arterial stiffness using pulse-wave velocity, and flow-mediated dilation, a measure of how well arteries dilate to allow for high blood flow. All three are key indicators of cardiovascular risk.
The researchers found that a high neutrophil count in the saliva was significantly related to poor flow-mediated dilation, suggesting that these participants may be at increased future risk of CVD. No relationship was observed between neutrophil count and pulse-wave velocity, indicating that longer-term impacts on arterial stiffness had not yet occurred.
They hypothesized that the cardiovascular effects caused by periodontal disease are caused by mouth inflammation leaking into the blood vessels, affecting the ability of arteries to produce the gas nitric oxide (NO), which keeps the vessels open and prevents damage from substances such as cholesterol in the bloodstream.
The researchers say that this simple test could be a way of identifying future risk of CVD, especially in otherwise healthy individuals.
“The mouth rinse test could be used at your annual checkup at the family doctors or the dentist,” said Michael Glogauer, one of the study’s co-authors. “It is easy to implement as an oral inflammation measuring tool in any clinic.”
While they look to repeat their study using a larger sample size and those with more advanced periodontal disease, the researchers encourage good oral hygiene in the meantime.
“Optimal oral hygiene is always recommended in addition to regular visits to the dentist, especially in light of this evidence,” King said. “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.”
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Oral Health.