Aspirin fights gum disease too: new study

Wednesday, 1 March 2000

A world-first study by Australian dental researchers has discovered a link between taking aspirin and protection against gum disease.

The study, by Dr Arthur Drouganis and Dr Robert Hirsch at Adelaide University's Dental School, shows that even ex-smokers can benefit from small doses of aspirin.

Gum disease is a major problem in Australia, with an estimated 10% of the population suffering from its most severe form, known as periodontitis. The problem particularly affects smokers and ex-smokers.

Periodontitis causes deterioration of the structures in the gums that hold the teeth in place. This can result in the teeth falling out.

In the first study of its kind, Dr Drouganis and Dr Hirsch investigated the dental health of 392 Adelaide men who were ex- or non-smokers. (Men were chosen for the study because mature-aged women can be affected by hormonal changes which can influence the health of the gums.)

The study found that men aged 50 and above who were taking low doses of aspirin to prevent heart attacks, strokes and other vascular diseases, had significantly better gum health than those who did not take aspirin.

Non-smokers were better off than ex-smokers, which confirmed the already well-documented findings that smoking has a negative effect on gum health. (Smokers also have fewer teeth at a given age than non-smokers, with ex-smokers being in the middle of the range.)

The implications of these findings are that low doses of aspirin may protect the fibres and ligaments that attach the gums to the teeth. This is possibly because aspirin inhibits the action of prostaglandin E2, a chemical messenger that triggers bone loss in severe gum disease.

"Our findings show that people aged over 50, particularly ex-smokers and probably smokers, may reduce their risk of deteriorating gums by taking low doses of aspirin (100mg) daily," Dr Drouganis says.

He says an important distinction needs to be drawn between superficial gum inflammation, known as gingivitis, and severe gum disease or periodontitis.

"People might think that if they have bleeding gums, the most common symptom of any gum disease, they might benefit from taking aspirin. They certainly wouldn't," he says.

"Only those people who have a history of severe gum disease would benefit from low doses of aspirin, and they may be identified by their dentist or periodontist. They should, of course, discuss this with their doctor to avoid interference with other medications or medical conditions."

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Dr Arthur Drouganis
The University of Adelaide
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