John C. Chao, D.D.S.

Research Associate Professor, University at Buffalo, SUNY
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Ostrow School of Dentistry, USC

(626) 308-9104

News & Press

Dental X-rays May Save You From Strokes or Heart Attack

According to public health sources, approximately 750, 000 people experience a stroke each year in the U.S. and 1.5 million experience a myocardial infarct (heart attack) each year. Dentists may be able to detect atherosclerotic plaque in the arteries of the neck by the routine taking of dental panoramic X-rays. Thus a routine dental visit may result in the prevention of strokes or heart attacks, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, 2005.

A panoramic radiograph is a large film taken with a tomography machine from outside the mouth that shows the entire upper and lower jaws. Tomography is a computer-assisted method of focusing a moving X-ray beam on a particular slice of tissue as if none of the other surrounding tissue is present. Generally the patient stands or sits in front of the machine while the X-ray tube swirls around and behind the head.

A recent study conducted at the Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic in Sepulveda, California, by researchers from UCLA evaluated 1,548 patients between the ages of 50-83. Approximately 4.2 percent of this population sample had observable plaque formation in the carotid artery in the neck on their panoramic radiographs. Subsequent ultrasound testing (Doppler Ultrasonography) confirmed that all 65 patients had abnormal findings in carotid arteries and that 23 percent had clogging (stenosis) of over 50%, an excessively high risk level for which immediate treatment is necessary.

Atherosclerotic plaque in the carotid artery is generally seen in the panoramic film at a location just below the angle of the lower jaw near the level of the Adam's apple. If the dentist suspects the presence of an atheroma, plaque formation, in the carotid artery, he/she will explain the finding to the patient and refer the patient to the primary physician for examination and possible testing. Generally a Doppler Ultrasonography is recommended, among other possible diagnostic procedures.

Atherosclerotic plaque in the carotid artery is a major manifestation of a generalized atherosclerosis that is associated with high levels of low-density lipo-proteins (LDL), lower levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL), diabetes, hypertension, cigarette smoking and increased Body Mass Index (BMI), among other risk factors. Medications, proper diet and exercise, stress reductions and other methods are generally recommended by physicians to control or lower these risk factors.

See your physician regularly for physical checkups and consult with the physician immediately if you suspect presence of heart or other diseases of any kind.

Regular visits to your dentist will save your smile, but it may just be possible that one of those visits may also save your life.

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