Adults with periodontitis, a severe gum infection, may be significantly more likely to have higher blood pressure compared to individuals who have healthy gums, according to new research published today in Hypertension, an American Heart Association journal.

Previous studies have found an association between hypertension (high blood pressure) and periodontitis; however, research confirming the details of this association is scarce. Periodontitis is an infection of the gum tissues that hold teeth in place that can lead to progressive inflammation, and bone or tooth loss. Prevention and treatment of periodontitis is cost effective and can lead to reduction of systemic markers of inflammation, as well as improvement in function of the endothelium (the thin membrane lining the inside of the heart and blood vessels).

Lead study author Eva Muñoz Aguilera, senior researcher at UCL Eastman Dental Institute in London said: “Patients with gum disease often present with elevated blood pressure, especially when there is active gingival inflammation, or bleeding of the gums. Elevated blood pressure is usually asymptomatic, and many individuals may be unaware that they are at increased risk of cardiovascular complications. We aimed to investigate the association between severe periodontitis and high blood pressure in healthy adults without a confirmed diagnosis of hypertension”.

The study included 250 adults with generalised, severe periodontitis and a control group of 250 adults who did not have severe gum disease, all of whom were otherwise healthy. Blood pressure assessments were measured three times for each participant to ensure accuracy. The researchers found that a diagnosis of gum disease was associated with higher odds of hypertension, independent of common cardiovascular risk factors.