Researchers explore link between gum disease and HIV

The mouth serves as an unlikely window to the rest of the body, as researchers have drawn connections between gum disease and numerous health problems from cardiovascular disease to systemic bacterial infections and even premature birth.

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Now, researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine are exploring the link between oral and heart health by studying the impact of treating gum disease in people with HIV on their cardiovascular health. Those with HIV are more prone to develop gum disease, which has been linked to an increased risk for heart disease—a leading cause of death for HIV-infected people.

With funding from the Center for AIDS Research at Case Western Reserve, Lance Vernon from the dental school will follow 14 people with HIV who are on highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), a medication regimen that may also increase risk for heart disease.

"By observing HIV-infected adults before and after an intensive treatment of gum disease, we will see whether immune-related factors within the blood improve as a result of this treatment, and whether the health of blood vessels will improve," says Vernon, a research dentist and senior instructor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the dental school.

Vernon will examine individuals for periodontal disease and observe changes in their health over a six-month period. During the first two months, the study's participants will report for three visits and undergo standard treatments that will remove the harmful bacteria found within plaque. Subjects will also receive topical antibiotics to combat infection and coaching on how to improve their oral hygiene at home.

Vernon says the study could help scientists better understand how the immune system is involved in the link between oral health and heart health.