There are plenty of good reasons to take good care of your teeth and gums — but protecting against cardiovascular disease turns out not to be one of them.
That’s the conclusion drawn by a team of cardiologists, dentists and infectious-disease experts who scoured hundreds of scientific studies to determine whether gum disease may cause heart disease or stroke. Their paper appears as a “scientific statement” in Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association.
That relationship has come to seem like common wisdom, and many of us, perhaps at our dentist’s urging, have brushed and flossed extra diligently because we think it may help keep our cardiovascular systems healthy.
The belief has been that periodontal disease such as infections and inflammation of the gums may cause atherosclerotic vascular disease, including inflammation and blockages of the arteries, which in turn might lead to heart attack or stroke.
But in a painstaking review of about 500 published studies, researchers found little evidence of such a cause-and-effect relationship.
Though many studies have found that people with gum disease also suffer from atherosclerosis, the narrowing of the arteries that’s associated with heart disease and stroke, none have found that the one causes the other.
That’s largely because many studies haven’t sufficiently accounted for the fact that both gum disease and atherosclerosis occur more commonly among smokers, older people and people with diabetes, notes the paper. Both conditions are also characterized by production of C-reactive protein, a biological signal indicating the presence of inflammation.
The researchers aren’t out to turn folks off to dental hygiene. But they note it’s important to clarify gum disease’s role so people can shift their focus to things we know contribute to cardiovascular disease such as being overweight, not controlling blood pressure, and smoking.
The paper notes that much more research is needed to pin down the associations between gum disease and heart disease. But, they write, “In the meantime, statements that imply a causative association between PD (periodontal disease) and specific ASVD (atherosclerotic vascular disease) events or claim that therapeutic interventions may be useful on the basis of that assumption are unwarranted.”