Scientists from Germany have identified a shared genetic link between the dental disease periodontitis and heart disease.

"Our study demonstrates that coronary heart disease and periodontitis are genetically related," Dr. Arne Schaefer, of the Institute for Clinical Molecular Biology, University of Kiel, Germany, and colleagues reported to the European Society of Human Genetics annual meeting in Vienna, Austria.

An association between periodontitis and heart disease has been known for several years and a genetic link has been suspected, the investigators note.

Schaefer and colleagues studied a genetic locus on chromosome 9, previously shown to be associated with heart attack, in a group of 151 patients with aggressive, early-onset forms of periodontitis, and a group of 1097 heart disease patients who had suffered a heart attack.

They identified a specific genetic variation on chromosome 9 that was associated with the clinical pictures of both diseases, Schaefer reported. The scientists went on to verify the association in further groups of 1100 heart disease patients and 180 periodontitis patients.

"Now that we know for sure that there is a strong genetic link (between periodontitis and heart disease), patients with periodontitis should try to reduce their risk factors and take preventive measures at an early stage," Schaefer advised.

"Because of its association with heart disease," Schaefer added, "we think that periodontitis should be taken very seriously by dentists and diagnosed and treated as early as possible."