Is Flossing Good for Your Heart?
Sept.19, 2000 -- Though the two may seem completely unrelated, some researchers have claimed that gum disease may lead to heart disease. But before you worry, new research is showing the link between gum disease and the risk for developing heart disease is far from a "floss or have a heart attack" situation (although it would be a heck of an ad campaign for floss manufacturers).
In fact, researchers from the University of Washington's School of Dentistry, who looked at government data that followed more than 8,000 people for about 20 years, found no strong evidence to indicate that people with gum disease are at higher risk for developing heart disease.
"I think at this moment there is a lot of good reason to floss, but people should not be concerned that gum disease may cause heart disease," study author Philippe Hujoel, PhD, tells WebMD. Hujoel, a periodontist, is an associate of professor of dental public health sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.
The idea that gum disease may be associated with a higher risk for heart disease, and even cause heart attacks, has been supported by a few small studies, says Hujoel; but he notes that two other large studies have not found a connection. Nor has his study, which appears in the Sept. 20 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. "Our study finds the association is either nonexistent or it is so small that you need a very large study to find out," Hujoel says.
There are several theories as to how gum disease could cause heart disease. The first is that the organisms that cause gum disease leave the mouth area and travel to infect the heart. A second is that the microorganisms in the mouth, once they get out and circulate in the blood, contribute to the build-up of fatty deposits in the heart. A final possibility -- one that experts say currently is the most plausible -- is that the heart is weakened by agents in the blood that respond to inflammation -- and in the case of chronic gum disease, there is constant inflammation.
Hujoel and his colleagues looked at data from a large government study that tracked more than 8000 subjects, aged 25 to 74 years old, between 1982 and 1992. At the start of the study in 1971 to 1975, none of the subjects had a history of heart disease, although more than half of them had some type of gum disease, either periodontitis or gingivitis (both of which involve inflammation of the gums).
The researchers noted that the participants with gum disease tended to be male, less educated, black, and poorer than the study participants with healthy gums. They also were older and were more likely to have other heart disease risk factors, including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, being overweight and smoking.