Myth vs. Fact: Does Gum Disease Cause Heart Disease?

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October 16, 2012


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So many people believe it — even some medical professionals — that the American Heart Association recently assembled an expert committee of cardiologists, dentists and infectious disease specialists to review 500 journal articles and studies on the subject.

Their conclusion: Despite popular belief, gum disease hasn’t been proven to cause atherosclerotic heart disease or stroke.

Gum disease and atherosclerotic heart disease, commonly known as hardening of the arteries, both produce markers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein.

They also share common risk factors such as cigarette smoking, age and diabetes. But even though many people have both conditions, it doesn’t establish a causal relationship.

Cardiologist Ted Feldman, M.D., one of Baptist Health’s medical directors of wellness and prevention, is glad the word is getting out.

“Just because you have the same risk factors for both conditions, it doesn’t mean periodontal disease causes cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Feldman, who also serves as medical director of South Miami Heart Center. “Everyone is looking for an easy answer. It would be nice to be able to say, ‘Take care of your gums and that will help take care of your heart disease,’ but it’s just not true.”

Dr. Feldman did not dismiss the importance of oral hygiene. “No one is saying for a second that taking care of your gums and teeth is not important to your overall health and wellness,” he said. But for heart disease, the spotlight should be on smoking, cholesterol, weight, blood pressure, blood glucose control, physical activity and healthy diet.

“Lifestyle modification is the message we want to get out,” Dr. Feldman said. “You want people to focus on the known causes of cardiovascular disease and the lifestyle changes that can make a difference.”

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