Healthy Living

Evidence for Gum Disease Causing Heart Disease is Dwindling

Evidence for Gum Disease Causing Heart Disease is Dwindling

Key Takeaways

  • There is little evidence that suggests that gum disease is the direct cause of heart disease; however, in some cases of either condition, one occurs right after the other.
  • The debate of why heart disease occurs when an individual has gum disease is open-ended.
  • Individuals should pay close attention to their oral hygiene to prevent other conditions from developing if they have gum disease.

The American Heart Association released a new statement stating that there is no conclusive evidence to support the relationship between gum disease and heart problems, and that treating gum disease can improve heart conditions. 

Gum disease is a major contributor to tooth loss and decay in adults. A number of studies in the past have shown that gum disease may result in a number of other diseases. According to one theory, inflammation and infection beginning in the mouth may spread to other parts of the body, resulting in the development of other diseases. Medical studies originally linked gum disease to other health conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, stillbirths, and even Alzheimer's disease. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007 reported that treating gum disease can improve the functioning of blood vessels.

Experts who reviewed many studies focusing on gum disease and its connection to heart disease report that even though the two conditions are related, it is not clear that gum disease may be the direct cause for heart problems. However, many other researchers are still not convinced. Robert H. Gregg, DDS, president of the Institute for Advanced Laser Dentistry, still believes that oral health has a major impact on the overall health of an individual, and many studies have shown that gum disease is linked to serious health concerns, including heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, diabetes, and even stillbirths.

Researcher Peter B. Lockhart, DDS, chairman of the department of oral medicine at Carolinas Health Care System in Charlotte, says that the belief stems from confusing and conflicting scientific evidence. “Both public and medicine have come to believe that there is a direct link between periodontal disease and heart disease”, adds Lockhart. He firmly believes that scientific evidence for the direct connection between the two is still lacking. Lockhart believes there is no evidence that gum disease causes atherosclerosis or stroke, and heart attacks. He warns that the evidence to support that treating gum disease will improve one's overall health is still lacking.

He specifies that the present statement clarifies what is known to be the link between oral health and heart disease. This will encourage people to focus on the major risk factors of heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity. He makes it clear that the statement does not mean one should not take care of his or her oral health, or that dental diseases do not require treatment. 

Many other experts are confused with the present statement of the Association, as well. Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, feels that the statement is dangerous. Other specialists feel that the conclusions of the review are misinterpreted. According to Kenneth S. Kornman, DDS, PhD, editor of the Journal of Periodontology, the review found an independent association between gum disease and heart problems. The probability of an individual developing one condition increases their probability for developing the other. It is not yet clear why the two problems occur together; Kornman added that there is no evidence to show that gum disease causes heart disease, because there hasn't been any studies conducted to prove that.