Study Shows No Link Between Gum Disease And Heart Attack Or Stroke
April 20, 2012

Study Shows No Link Between Gum Disease And Heart Attack Or Stroke

Connie K. Ho for

You flash your pearly whites. You attempt to brush your teeth and floss every day as part of  your everyday oral hygiene. However, a new report by an expert committee of the American Heart Association (AHA) reports that gum disease hasn´t been conclusively proven to cause or prevent heart disease or stroke.

The expert committee includes members who have worked as cardiologists, dentists, and infectious diseases specialists. The group believes that gum disease, otherwise known as periodontal disease, doesn´t cause or increase cardiovascular disease. They state that no current data proves that daily flossing, brushing, or treatment of gum disease will decrease the chance of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the narrowing of the heart arteries that causes heart attacks or strokes.

While there is a connection between the gum disease and cardiovascular disease, the 500 journal articles and studies were reviewed by the committee didn´t show a definitive correlation.

"There's a lot of confusion out there," commented Peter Lockhart, D.D.S., co-chair of the statement writing group and professor and chair of oral medicine at the Carolinas Medical Center, in a prepared statement. "The message sent out by some in healthcare professions that heart attack and stroke are directly linked to gum disease, can distort the facts, alarm patients and perhaps shift the focus on prevention away from well known risk factors for these diseases."

Lockhart believes that a longer study would be needed to show the link between gum disease and a heart attack or stroke, but that will not likely be happening in coming years.

"Much of the literature is conflicting," continued Lockhart in the statement, "but if there was a strong causative link, we would likely know that by now."

Despite this statement by the AHA, the idea that gum disease is linked to heart conditions has been proposed by doctors and dentists for over a century. Infected gums can lead to recurring heart problems and bacteria are known to infect the blood stream during dental procedures and natural events like brushing teeth. Both gum disease and cardiovascular diseases are known to produce signs of inflammation, such as C-reactive protein. Other common risk factors between the two include smoking, old age, and diabetes mellitus. With this knowledge, Lockhart asks that patients be as proactive as possible in their oral hygiene routine.

"We already know that some people are less proactive about their cardiovascular health than others. Individuals who do not pay attention to the very powerful and well proven risk factors, like smoking, diabetes or high blood pressure, may not pay close attention to their oral health either,” remarked Lockhart in the prepared statement.

The statement, approved by the American Dental Association Council on Scientific Affairs and the World Heart Federation, follows the promotion of “Gum Disease Awareness Week” by the Institute for Advanced Laser Dentistry (IALD).

"Oral health has a major impact on overall health, and mounting university research has linked gum disease to serious health concerns, including heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, diabetes, and even stillbirths," remarked Robert H. Gregg, DDS, president of the IALD, in a recent press release.

Some in the medical profession are confused by the statement and believe that it will send out mixed messages.

"I think it's a bit dangerous," explained Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC). "What they're really saying is that maybe it wasn't that poor dental hygiene is associated with heart disease; it's more that the risk factors are similar, and therefore we're seeing a connection."

Other experts believe that the conclusions of the review were skewered.

“We have to be careful," noted Kenneth S. Kornman, DDS, PhD, editor of the Journal of Periodontology, in a AJC article. "We don't want to say to the public, [gum disease] doesn't cause heart disease. The fact is that we don't know."

Most agree that, even with this review, it´s important to take care of one´s teeth and gums.

"One thing we can say with confidence is that keeping your teeth and gums healthy by brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, restricting sugary foods to meal times and visiting the dentist regularly makes an important contribution to oral health and general well-being,” concluded Professor Nairn Wilson, from the British Dental Association's health and science committee, in an article by the Telegraph.