Dental Health and Heart Health


Do healthy gums mean a healthy heart?

There's no question that regular brushing, flossing and dental checkups can keep your mouth healthy. But if you fall short on your hygiene routine, can gum disease actually cause heart disease?

There’s no conclusive evidence that preventing gum disease — periodontitis — can prevent heart disease or that treating gum disease can lessen atherosclerosis, the buildup of artery-clogging plaque that can result in a heart attack or stroke, according to an American Heart Association statement.

“The mouth can be a good warning signpost,” said Ann Bolger, M.D., William Watt Kerr Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “People with periodontitis often have risk factors that not only put their mouth at risk, but their heart and blood vessels, too. But whether one causes the other has not actually been shown.”

Periodontitis and heart disease share risk factors such as smoking, age and diabetes, and both contribute to inflammation in the body. Although these shared risk factors may explain why diseases of the blood vessels and mouth can occur simultaneously, some evidence suggests that there may be an independent association between the two diseases.

The trouble, experts say, is that the research isn’t strong enough to suggest that gum disease treatment will lessen the risk of heart attack or stroke.

“We’re just not there yet with the research,” said Bolger, who is also an American Heart Association volunteer. “We don’t want people who have a heart attack and get a stent to feel that they need aggressive gum disease surgery, which could be risky for them.”

Bolger advises people to lower their risk of heart disease by proven methods, like:
  • quitting smoking,
  • managing their weight,
  • controlling their blood pressure, and
  • staying active.
This is not the first time that oral health has been linked to overall health. In the 1920s a crescendo of concern about the connection led to the prevalence of complete tooth extractions, Bolger said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t cure heart disease by removing teeth.”

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