Studies Do Not Show Gum Disease Causes Cardiovascular Problems

Dentists and doctors have been advising us for decades to keep our gums healthy to protect our hearts. Now it turns out that this advice may be without any solid basis.

The American Heart Association (AHA) published a scientific statement in its journal Circulation in April 2012 that disputes a direct connection between gum disease and cardiovascular disease. Although the two conditions share several risk factors - smoking, diabetes, obesity and older age - that doesn't mean gum disease (periodontal disease) in fact causes cardiovascular disease (specifically, atherosclerotic vascular disease, which includes heart attack, stroke and peripheral artery disease). Nor does it mean that taking care of your teeth will keep your heart healthy.

The scientific statement suggests instead that these conditions may develop in the same people because of overlapping risk factors.

For their report, a team of cardiologists, dentists and infectious disease specialists reviewed more than 500 studies published between 1950 and 2011 that investigated the periodontal disease–heart condition link. A leading long-held theory has been that inflammation or infection from gum disease can spread throughout the body and affect the circulatory system. However, the researchers found that neither this theory nor several others have been truly proved because most past studies were observational studies, which establish a relationship between the two diseases but not a direct cause and effect.

The new findings, therefore, maintain there's insufficient evidence to suggest that preventing or treating gum disease prevents heart disease or stroke or modifies the course of either condition. However, the AHA hasn't completely ruled out an association between gum disease and heart disease. Even though high-level evidence supporting a direct link has yet to be established, having one of the diseases makes you more likely to develop the other.

In the meantime, keep brushing and flossing, but also focus on controlling heart disease's known risk factors

  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • diabetes
  • excessive weight
  • tobacco use
  • lack of physical activity
  • an unhealthy diet
  • stress

Source: Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 10 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 18 Sep 2015