People with gum disease (search) who also have type 2 diabetes (search) may be more likely to die of heart disease and kidney damage than those with healthy gums, according to a new study.

The risk of heart disease and heart-related death is substantially higher among people with diabetes, but researchers say these findings indicate that risk may be magnified among those with gum disease, also known as periodontal disease (search).

Previous studies have shown that the inflammation associated with gum disease may play a key role in the development of heart disease.

In this study, researchers found that the effect of gum disease on raising the risk of death from heart disease or kidney damage (diabetic nephropathy) (search) was in addition to the effect of traditional risk factors for diabetes and heart disease, such as obesity, smoking and high blood pressure.

Bad Gums May Increase Heart Disease, Kidney Damage Deaths

To examine the link between gum disease and diabetes-related death risks, researchers followed a group of 628 Pima Indians in Arizona with type 2 diabetes for a period of 11 years. Gum disease is extremely common among this population and nearly 60 percent of the participants had severe gum disease.

During the 11-year follow-up, 204 participants died. Researchers found the risk of death caused by heart disease or kidney damage was substantially higher among those with gum disease, and the risk of death increased as the severity of gum disease increased.

For example, the death rate from heart disease in people with severe gum disease was 2.3 times as high and the death rate from kidney damage was 8.5 times as high as in those with milder forms of gum disease or no gum disease.

The researchers say that in general those who had more severe gum disease were older and had a longer duration of diabetes, higher rates of kidney disease, hypertension, and heart disease.

Although this study shows that gum disease dramatically raises the risk of death due to heart disease or kidney damage among people with type 2 diabetes over and above other traditional risk factors, researchers say additional research is needed to determine whether prevention or treatment of gum disease can reduce the risk of death from either disease.

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCE: Saremi, A. Diabetes Care, January 2005; vol 28: pp 27-32.