Gum Disease Linked To
Ulcer-Causing Bacteria


NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People with gum disease are more likely than those with healthy gums to be infected with Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that cause stomach ulcers, researchers report.
The finding could shed light on how the bacteria are spread from person to person, a mode of transmission that is still a bit of a mystery. While about one third of the US population--and even higher percentages of the population in other countries--is infected with the H. pylori, how the bacteria spread is unknown.
In the new study, researchers found that those with deep gum "pockets"--the gap between tooth and gum that gets larger when gums are diseased--were 50% more likely to have H. pylori than those with less extensive pockets.
Overall, 41% of those with pockets 5 millimeters or deeper between gum and teeth were infected with H. pylori. In comparison, only 25% of the entire study group of 4,504 participants was infected with the ulcer-causing bacterium, according to a report published in the November issue of the American Journal of Public Health, the journal of the American Public Health Association.
The researchers measured infection by testing for blood antibodies to H. pylori, a sign of past or current infection. In a past study, researchers who directly tested samples from gum disease-related pockets found that 33% contained H. pylori.
This is the first large US study to demonstrate an association between the presence of H. pylori and a specific characteristic of periodontal disease, according to lead author Dr. Bruce A. Dye of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, and colleagues.
"Although the idea that the oral cavity is a potential site for H. pylori gastric reinfection has been proposed before, our findings indicate that only moderate to severe periodontal pockets may be associated with H. pylori infection," the authors conclude.
About 9% of people in the US aged 30 to 90 have pockets between tooth and gum that measure 5 millimeters or greater in depth, according to the report.
The researchers are calling for further studies on the matter.
SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health 2002;92:1809-1815.
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