The clue is that people who suffer from very bad gums, or periodontitis, are also more likely to suffer a heart attack (myocardial infarction). And another clue is that people with periodontitis are also more likely to be diabetic, even if they don't know it.
And the common factor is a condition called dysglycaemia, where the body cannot metabolise sugar, or glucose, properly—which also happens to be what happens when you have diabetes, a condition where you become glucose-intolerant.
People with the disorder are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack, say researchers from the Karolinksa Institute in Sweden, who studied 712 heart attack patients, and checked their gum health and glucose levels.
The findings put dentists on the front line of healthcare, and it also means that endocrinologists, specialists in diabetes treatment, should be checking the gum health of patients, the researchers say.
"Undetected glucose disorders are common in myocardial infarction and periodontitis. Many people visit the dentist regularly and maybe it's worth considering taking routine blood-sugar tests in patients with severe periodontitis to catch these patients," said researcher Dr Anna Norhammer.
More than 610,000 Americans die from a heart attack every year—it's responsible for one in every four deaths—and the Karolinska experts have demonstrated it has little to do with cholesterol or arteries 'furring up' and everything to do with the way our bodies process sugar, especially from processed foods.