Gum disease 'does not cause heart trouble': Any link 'coincidental', say scientists
23:05 GMT, 18 April 2012
The belief that gum disease can lead to heart attacks and strokes is unfounded, experts said yesterday.
A panel of 13 U.S. scientists insisted there was no evidence for a causal link between bad gums and cardiovascular disease.
They reviewed 500 articles in scientific journals and concluded that while people with gum disease may be at greater risk of heart and artery problems, the association is probably coincidental.
No causal link: A dentist inspects a man's teeth, but US scientists insist there is no connection between gum disease and heart trouble
Both conditions shared common risk factors, such as smoking, and both produced similar inflammation markers.
Those common factors could help explain why diseases of the blood vessels and mouth can occur in tandem.
Research has shown that people with gum disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease as those without gum disease.
'Much of the literature is conflicting, but if there was a strong causative link, we would likely know that by now,' said Professor Peter Lockhart, co-chairman of the expert panel and chairman of oral medicine at the Carolinas Medical Centre in Charlotte, North Carolina. 'There's a lot of confusion out there.'
He cited coincidental lifestyle factors. 'We already know that some people are less proactive about their cardiovascular health.
'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.'
Professor Lockhart added: '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.'
Only a large, long-term study could prove that dental disease caused heart disease, but there was no likelihood of such an investigation in the near future.
'It's most important to let patients know what we know now, and what we don't know,' said Professor Lockhart. The panel spelled out their views in a scientific statement published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.
A number of theories have been suggested to explain the association between gum and heart disease. One is that mouth bacteria attach to fatty deposits in arteries and trigger blood clots. Another is that they are a source of inflammation, which leads to a thickening of artery walls.
But the experts writing in Circulation said statements that imply a cause and effect relationship between gum and heart and artery disease were 'unwarranted' at this time.
Natasha Stewart, of the British Heart Foundation, said: 'Maintaining good oral hygiene, as well as a healthy diet, avoiding smoking and taking part in regular physical activity, are essential for good health including protecting your heart and gums.'
Professor Nairn Wilson, from the British Dental Association, said: 'One thing we can say with confidence is 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.'