Carolinas HealthCare System
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Department of Oral Medicine Awarded $3.7 Million Grant to Study Relationship Between Poor Oral Hygiene and Heart Disease

Carolinas HealthCare System’s Department of Oral Medicine has received a $3.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the role of poor oral hygiene and periodontal disease in patients who develop an infection of the heart valves, known as infective endocarditis (IE). Infective endocarditis is a disease that has been reported to cause nearly 1.6 million years of healthy life lost due to death and disability.

Upwards of 30% of IE originates from oral bacteria. Dr. Peter Lockhart, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Oral Medicine, is the Principal Investigator for this five-year grant, which also involves dentists and cardiologists at three patient enrollment sites: Carolinas Medical Center, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and Kings Daughter’s Medical Center in Kentucky.

“While there is existing scientific evidence supporting the idea that patients with poor oral hygiene could be at risk for developing infective endocarditis, that data is not strong enough to imply a direct correlation,” says Dr. Michael Brennan, Chair of the Department of Oral Medicine who, along with Dr. Geoffrey Rose, Chief of Cardiology at the System’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute, are Site Co-Investigators on the study.

Dr. Lockhart points out that “This funding will enable our research team to define the association between dental disease and IE, and thereby determine if dental disease is a risk factor that can be prevented for the millions of people in the country who have heart valve disorders.  This could potentially result in major implications for clinical practice and public health internationally.”

The study is based on the idea that IE is a disease that can occur as a result of poor oral hygiene, where bacteria moves from the inflamed tissue around the teeth into the blood stream where they can infect the heart tissue. Data from a previous NIH study at Carolinas Medical Center, headed up by Dr. Lockhart, provides convincing support for the idea that IE can result from common daily activities such as tooth brushing.

In addition to transforming our understanding of risk factors for IE, this study has the potential to reduce the incidence of IE and its associated morbidity, mortality, and cost. It could provide key information for future clinical guidelines for prevention of IE, and it could play a critical role in public health for all individuals at risk of developing this disease.

Learn more about the System’s department of Oral Medicine.