Few Cardiologists Fully Understand Perio Disease

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A new study published in the Journal of Dental Hygiene that examined cardiologists’ knowledge of the link between heart disease and periodontal disease discovered that many were uncertain about the causes of periodontal disease. But many would like to be better informed about the potential links between the two diseases, researchers found.

The oral-systemic link has increased in importance in recent years as studies have linked periodontal disease to such long-term health conditions as heart disease, pregnancy issues, and diabetes.

The American Heart Association issued 2012 statement that stated that while a link exists between heart disease and periodontal disease, a causal relationship does not exist. However, no published study has discussed cardiologists’ opinions and knowledge regarding this area of science, noted researchers in their study.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who conducted the study wanted to determine whether health professionals in other fields were being educated about oral health and specifically about the link between systemic disease and oral health. In other words, were clinical and laboratory findings from studies getting directly translated into better patient care?

This study is the latest of several groups of professionals in different health fields researchers have studied. For example, they have also published papers that examined the opinions, attitudes, and knowledge regarding oral-systemic disease from internists, endocrinologists, diabetes educators, certified nurse practitioners, nurse practitioners, and ob/gyns.

Researchers wanted to determine whether cardiologists were keeping up on the emerging evidence suggesting a link between heart disease and gum disease, and whether they were better educating patients on this connection?

To test what action cardiologists were taking, researchers developed, revised, and tested a survey that was sent out to 625 registered North Carolina cardiologists between fall of 2012 and the New Year. The survey included 34 questions that touched on topics that ranged from demographics, education, opinions regarding periodontal disease, and systemic and oral health.

A total of 119 surveys were returned (roughly 19 percent). Approximately 41 percent of cardiologist said they refer patients to a dentist when they express concerns about their oral health, and 31 percent refer is they find something that requires further examination. However, 22 percent never refer patients to a dentist or dental care clinic regardless of what they find or patients says.

Nearly 18 percent of survey respondents claimed they conduct an oral exam during a patient’s first visit, while 21 percent said they never conduct an exam. When asked to provide an explanation why no exam was conducted, 46 percent stated they were not sure what type of oral exam to perform.

Relating to knowledge about periodontal disease, 70 percent of survey respondents said that bone loss is a symptom of periodontal disease, while 63 percent successfully identified the first sign of gum disease as bleeding gums. When asked whether patients with periodontal disease had a higher likelihood of developing heart disease, 72 percent agreed. When asked about their knowledge of studies that explored the link between oral disease and heart disease, 50 percent of survey respondents agreed a link did exists, while the rest either disagreed or were unsure. Only 39 percent stated they thought gum disease treatment could help to reduce a patient’s risk of heart disease. However, 72 percent were interested in further exploring this relationship.

While researchers were not surprised by the results of their study, it does indicate a need to better educate health care professionals outside of the oral health field about the links between oral health and systemic disease.