Experts: No Proof Gum Disease Causes Heart Disease
New Statement by the American Heart Association Stirs Controversy
Statement Aims to Clear up Confusion continued...
"There's no scientific evidence at this point that there's a direct connection -- that either gum disease causes atherosclerosis [hardening of the arteries] or strokes and heart attacks, or that there's any evidence at this point that by treating periodontal disease that you'll improve your [heart health] situation," Lockhart says.
Lockhart says the statement is meant to clarify what is known about the link between oral health and heart disease, and to encourage people to focus on more established heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity.
The review doesn't mean that it's OK not to take care of your gums or that gum disease doesn't need treatment, he says.
"Having infected gums on a daily basis can't be healthy. It just, at this point, hasn't been shown to cause disease [throughout the body]," Lockhart says.
"I wouldn't want people distracted nor needlessly upset by the fact that if they couldn't get dental care or it wasn't working that it was going to have a negative impact on their overall cardiovascular situation," he says.
Statement Stirs Controversy
Other experts, however, say they were confused by the new statement.
"I think it's a bit dangerous," says Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. "What they're really saying is that maybe it wasn't that poor dental hygiene is associated with heart disease; it's more that the risk factors are similar, and therefore we're seeing a connection."
But "how much does it matter?" she says, given that people still need to take care of their gums for other reasons.
And other experts said they felt the conclusions of the review were being misinterpreted.
Kenneth S. Kornman, DDS, PhD, editor of the Journal of Periodontology, said the review found that there is an independent association between heart disease and gum disease. That means that people who have one are also more likely to have the other. That's true even if they don't smoke or have diabetes, two things that are known to drive up the risk for heart and gum disease. It's not yet known why the two frequently occur together.