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Dental Plaque Buildup May Raise Heart Risk in Black Men

White blood cell activity increases in these patients when oral hygiene is neglected, study finds

FRIDAY, Oct. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Black males may be at increased risk for heart problems caused by accumulation of dental plaque, a U.S. study finds.

Indiana University School of Dentistry researchers studied 128 black and white women and men and found that a buildup of dental plaque didn't cause a change in total white blood cell count, a known risk factor for heart problems. However, dental plaque accumulation in black males was associated with a significant increase in the activity of white blood cells called neutrophils, an important part of the immune system, the researchers noted.

None of the study participants had periodontal (gum) disease. They were healthy people who were asked to neglect their oral hygiene as part of the study, the study authors explained.

"We are talking about healthy people who simply neglect oral hygiene and if they were male and black, we found a response from their white blood cells, or neutrophils, that might be a cause for concern," study leader Michael Kowolik, a professor of periodontics and associate dean for graduate education at the school of dentistry, said in a university news release.

"If you get a bacterial infection anywhere in the body, billions of neutrophils come flooding out of your bone marrow to defend against the intruder. Our observation that with poor dental hygiene, white blood cell activity increased in black men but not black women or whites of either sex suggests both gender and racial differences in the inflammatory response to dental plaque. This finding could help us identify individuals at greater risk for infections anywhere in the body including those affecting the heart," Kowolik said.

An elevated white blood cell count is one of the major risks for heart attack, previous research has found.

"While we did not observe higher white blood cell counts as the result of dental plaque accumulation, the increased activity of white blood cells, which we did find, may also carry a higher risk for heart disease," Kowolik said.

The study was published in the August issue of the Journal of Dental Research.

More information

The American Academy of Periodontology has more about gum disease and general health.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Indiana University School of Dentistry, news release, Sept. 25, 2009

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