NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People taking cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins may be protecting their gums as well as their hearts, according to new research from Finland.
Patients with periodontal disease who were taking statins had significantly less diseased gum tissue than those who weren't on the drugs, indicating less inflammatory injury, Dr. Otso Lindy of the University of Helsinki and colleagues found.
"Untreated periodontal pockets may serve as a source of persistent medium-grade inflammation with systemic consequences although the inflammation is milder and more local than in, for instance, rheumatoid arthritis," the researchers write in the BioMed Central journal Oral Health. The researchers point out that more than half of adults have some degree of gum inflammation or gingivitis.
Statins have recently been shown to have general anti-inflammatory effects, Lindy's team notes, while some research suggests that gum disease may contribute to cardiovascular disease by increasing the inflammatory burden on the body.
To investigate whether taking a statin might in turn have an effect on gum disease, the researchers looked at disease severity in 100 consecutive patients treated for advanced periodontitis.
On average, the 21 patients taking statins had about 50 pockets of diseased tissue in their gums at least 4 millimeters deep, compared to 79 such pockets for the patients who weren't on statins. Statin users had 14 pockets at least 6 millimeters deep, indicating advanced tissue injury, compared to 28 for non-users.
When the researchers combined all gum disease measurements into a Periodontal Inflammatory Burden Index, the figure for statin users indicated 43 percent less inflammation. Among non-smoking patients, the index was 64 percent lower for statin users.
If studies following patients over time confirm the results, the researchers conclude, the findings could lead to new approaches for treating gum disease.
SOURCE: BMC Oral Health, May 15, 2008.