Periodontal Bacterial Invasion and Infection: Contribution to Atherosclerotic Pathology

A.Progulske-FoxDr. Ann Progulske-Fox, Distinguished Professor and Director, Center for Molecular Microbiology, University of Florida has a B.S. from South Dakota State University; Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts (Microbiology) and Post-doctoral Fellowship at the University Of Connecticut College of Medicine.

Her research interests have always been focused on how successful pathogens survive and cause disease. More specifically, she is interested in how bacteria from the mouth cause disease in other parts of the body. Recently Dr. Progulske-Fox published a paper titled: ‘Periodontal bacterial invasion and infection: contribution to atherosclerotic pathology’ in the Journal of Periodontology.

Background of the study

Initially and several years ago, we had a hunch that some oral bacteria might be able to infect the cells that line the arteries, since it was already known that oral bacteria are sometimes found in the blood. This hunch also came about because it had been reported that there is a statistical association between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease. We then began looking for a possible mechanism or explanation of how periodontal bacteria could cause or exacerbate cardiovascular disease, especially atherosclerosis. Now, a number of years later, we have identified the detailed mechanism which is far more interesting than we ever imagined.


The conclusions are that there is a great deal of evidence to support an involvement of oral bacteria in the cause and/or increased severity of atherosclerosis in humans. We do not yet have absolute proof of this yet because we cannot do the studies in humans that would constitute a proof so it has to be done in a more indirect way. We also have been able to uncover the way that a particular bacterium that causes periodontal disease, Porphyromonas gingivalis, is able to infect and manipulate the endothelial cells that line the arteries. It is damage to these cells that is the initial event of atherosclerosis.


First, hopefully these findings can be used to influence the healthy behaviors of our population in that they predict that good oral hygiene not only is essential for healthy teeth but may have even more significance in cardiovascular disease, which is a life-or-death issue. It has been shown that bacteria from our mouths are present in our blood for the equivalent of 3 hours per day so oral bacteria definitely are also systemic. Secondly, our findings on the mechanism of infection of artery cells by the periodontal bacteria are providing potential new prevention/treatments for atherosclerosis.

Additional research

We are continuing to study in more detail the way bacteria in the blood affect cardiovascular diseases and, based on the mechanism we have discovered, we want to complete experiments using newly identified drugs to determine which of these drugs influence oral bacteria-related atherosclerosis.

Increasing awareness

By education of the population through popular press as well as during visits to dental offices and various community health programs. When people understand that their dental health may actually influence when they die, taking excellent care of their teeth and gums becomes more of a priority.

Advice from the field

Make sure scientific research is your passion because presently the competition for funding for biomedical research is intense and can be very frustrating. However, it is also extremely rewarding to be able to do what you love for the betterment of mankind. I plan to retire very late in life and if I were independently wealthy, I would still go to the lab every day.

About the department

The Department of Oral Biology in the College of Dentistry at the University of Florida is home to over 20 faculty and 90 staff, students and post-doctoral fellows. It is well known and highly regarded in the area of oral infections and disease. Faculties are studying how bacteria cause both oral and systemic diseases, the immune response to these pathogens and oral cancer. The department generates about 10 million dollars in extramural research funding annually and is also the home to a highly successful NIH-funded training program and the state-of-the-art scientific center, the Center for Molecular Microbiology. In addition to conducting biomedical research, the department is also involved in teaching and training students as it .offers a dynamic and supportive research and training environment for undergraduates, graduate students and clinical fellows. The overall goal of the department is to answer the challenges of developing new and highly effective ways to manage, cure or prevent diseases.