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Dentists check for heart condition

Dentists on the frontline to check for heart condition

Published on: 6 March 2023

Dentists and students at Newcastle Dental Hospital will soon be monitoring their patients to see if they have an often-undiagnosed heart condition - as well as tending to their teeth.

Researchers suspect there is a link between gum disease and a heart condition called atrial fibrillation (AF) that puts people at increased risk of stroke.

The research teams are conducting a study of 1,000 patients over 65 years who attend Newcastle Dental Hospital. They will be screened for AF while waiting for their dental appointment.

Screening for AF is simple using a handheld monitor for 30 seconds. If detected, the patient will be referred to their GP who will make any clinical decisions required. The condition can be treated with medication to help prevent blood clots that can cause a stroke.  

Dr Susan Bissett, Principal Investigator and Honorary Clinical Lecturer at the School of Dental Sciences, Newcastle University, said: “There is a growing body of scientific evidence and research suggesting a connection between oral diseases and AF.

“This study is looking specifically at the links between gum disease and AF, and the feasibility of screening for AF in a dental setting. The technology is simple and quick to use.

“We are delighted to be collaborating with Professor Neubeck and her team on this important research.” 

Professor Lis Neubeck, Head of the Centre for Cardiovascular Health at Edinburgh Napier, said: “AF can affect all ages, but it is more common in people who are over 65. People with AF are up to five times more likely to suffer a stroke than those without. And around 10% of people who suffer this type of stroke have undiagnosed AF.

“This is such an important study because an AF-related stroke is more likely to be serious than a non-AF related stroke.  Sadly, around 70% die or are left with a permanent disability compared with 55% for non-AF related strokes.”

Dentist treating patient's teeth

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Across the UK, AF affects around 2.5% of the population but about a third of people with the condition do not know that they have it because not everyone with AF has symptoms.

AF happens when the electrical impulses from the heart’s natural pacemaker are overridden by abnormal impulses firing from the top chamber of the heart. This causes the heart to beat faster and irregularly.

Symptoms of AF include heart palpitations, where your heart feels like it is pounding, fluttering, or beating irregularly.

What is gum disease (periodontitis)?

Periodontitis is the 6th most prevalent disease throughout the world and significantly linked to general well-being.

Studies in the UK suggest that some degree of gingivitis (reversible gum disease) affects 50%–90% of the adult population, whilst almost half of adults in the UK have a degree of periodontitis that is not reversible.

The signs and symptoms of periodontal disease vary significantly but may include gums that bleed when brushing, together with signs of more advanced disease such as movement or drifting of the teeth.

 Issued on behalf of Edinburgh Napier University, Newcastle University and Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust by Clark Communications:


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