Conventional wisdom is that medical care and dental care are related, but little is known about how dental care relates to health outcomes after acute accidents such as heart attacks.
To this end, University of Michigan researchers studied patients receiving periodontal care, dental cleanings or who did not receive dental care during 2016-2018 and who had an acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) in 2017.
They found that patients who had heart attacks and received periodontal maintenance care had the shortest hospital stays, and more follow-up visits. The no dental care group tested the longest stay.
“After controlling for several factors, the periodontal care group had higher odds of post-hospital visits,” said study co-author Romesh Nalia, associate dean of patient services at UM College of Dentistry.
There was no statistically significant difference between the other groups (active periodontal care and regular care) compared to the no-care group.
The study published in Journal of the American Dental Associationhas not established a causal relationship between gum disease and heart disease, but research like this adds weight to the understanding that there is a relationship between oral health and general health, Nalia said.
There are 800,000 cases of myocardial infarction in the United States annually, he said, and those with periodontal disease are at increased risk of hospitalization after a heart attack.
Naleh and colleagues wanted to examine the relationship between periodontal care, hospitalization for heart attacks, and follow-up visits within 30 days after acute care. Using the MarketScan database, they found 2,370 patients who met the study criteria. Of these, 47% received regular oral health care or other, 7% received active periodontal care (root planning and gum exfoliation) and 10% received controlled periodontal care (maintenance). More than 36% did not receive oral health care before being admitted to hospital after a heart attack.
“Dentistry is often practiced in isolation from universal health care,” Naleh said. “Our findings add weight to the evidence that medicine and dental health are closely interrelated. More and more studies like ours are showing that it is wrong to practice medicine without thoughtful consideration for a patient’s oral health.”
Naleh said improving communication between medical and dental teams could help early intervention to ensure stable gum health in patients who have risk factors for heart disease.
“It is important to include dental care in routine medical care and this means that insurances should facilitate this connection rather than offering dental insurance as a separate supplement,” he said.
Co-authors are Tanima Basu, chief statistician at Michigan Hospital Medicine Safety Consortium, and Xiang Hua Zhang, research assistant professor at Michigan Medicine.