Untreated infection of the root tip of a tooth - which is common and often symptomless - may increase the risk of heart diseases, new research suggests.
"Acute coronary syndrome is 2.7 times more common among patients with untreated teeth in need of root canal treatment than among patients without this issue," said University of Helsinki researcher John Liljestrand.
Dental root tip infection, or apical periodontitis, is a bodily defence reaction against microbial infection in the dental pulp. Caries is the most common cause of dental root tip infection.
The study involved 508 Finnish patients with a mean age of 62 years who were experiencing heart symptoms at the time of the study.
Their coronary arteries were examined by means of angiography, and 36 per cent of them were found to be suffering from stable coronary artery disease, 33 per cent were undergoing acute coronary syndrome, and 31 did not suffer from coronary artery disease to a significant degree.
Their teeth were examined using panoramic tomography of the teeth and jaws, and as many as 58 per cent were found to be suffering from one or more inflammatory lesions.
The findings, published in the Journal of Dental Research, suggest that root canal treatment of an infected tooth may reduce the risk of heart disease.
The researchers also discovered that dental root tip infections were connected with a high level of serum antibodies related to common bacteria causing such infections.
This shows that oral infections affect other parts of the body as well.