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Research shows if you have gum disease, you’re twice as likely to have heart disease.
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Research shows if you have gum disease, you’re twice as likely to have heart disease.

Did you know that one in five Australians have moderate-to-severe gum disease? (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2007) That’s bad news for their teeth; however, poor dental health can also have a negative impact on their hearts. 


Research by Dr Danielle Kamato, a 2018 Heart Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow and Post Doctorate researcher at the University of Queensland, aims to discover more about the links between gum disease and cardiovascular disease (conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels). 

“My research looks to define the link between gum disease and the beginning of cardiovascular disease,” Dr Kamato explains. “If we can understand this, we can develop new therapies.” 

Before Dr Kamato’s research, there was only a limited understanding of the biological link between gum disease and the impacts of these conditions on heart health. 

What’s gum disease got to do with it? 

Dr Kamato believes one challenge facing health researchers is discovering why something is  harming health: in her case, that “something” is gum disease. 

“Once we understand the biological links between gum disease and heart disease, we can explore if there are potential new treatments that could prevent conditions like heart attack,” Dr Kamato. 

In her Heart Foundation-backed research, Dr Kamato found: 
  • Bacteria associated with gum disease releases harmful substances that can cause the blood vessels to become sticky 
  • Changes that occur to proteins in the blood vessel wall called “proteoglycans” cause this stickiness 
  • The sticky properties of proteoglycans attract cholesterol    
  • As the cholesterol sticks to the proteoglycans in the blood vessel wall, this leads to fat and cholesterol build-up (this build-up is called “atherosclerosis”) 
  • The build-up causes artery walls to harden 
  • This hardening can eventually affect blood flow 
  • When arteries become blocked, this can lead to coronary heart disease (damage or disease in the heart’s major blood vessels), including heart attack and death.      

Developing new treatments for gum disease and heart disease 

Every day in Australia, heart attacks take around 20 lives. Coronary heart disease is Australia’s leading killer, taking 50 lives each day (figures from Causes of death 2019, Australian Bureau Of Statistics). 

Dr Kamato’s research creates potential new approaches to developing treatments for infection-related diseases that impact the heart and blood vessels. 

“We are now in the process of identifying potential new therapies for the prevention of cardiovascular disease caused by infection,” Dr Kamato explained. 

“We expect that future studies will help to identify how we can use these therapies in cell and animal models. 

“The success of this project can lead to identifying new therapies and treatments that target the disease process occurring in the walls of the arteries. 

“Combining any new treatments developed from this research with existing therapies can help to provide better long-term outcomes for patients with atherosclerosis.” 

Research on beating atherosclerosis can save lives. 

“Like so many families, mine has also been impacted by heart disease. Since I was younger, I’ve had a keen interest in heart health,” Dr Kamato outlined. 

“As researchers, we can get stuck in what I call “Research Land”; we can become focused on the research, rather than its outcomes. I’m interested in exploring different areas that can help lead to the development of new therapies. 

“Research has become my career focus, and I’m keen to stay. We know research can help to save lives.  

“I’m excited to be part of the Heart Foundation’s work, and I’m keen to collaborate with other researchers. I want to keep studying and exploring the pathways that lead to disease to find new therapies that can prevent disease.” 

You can find out more about the Heart Foundation’s research program, including applying for our next round of research grants, on our website

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