Experts: No Proof Gum Disease Causes Heart Disease
New Statement by the American Heart Association Stirs Controversy
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.
He said it's also true that there's no evidence to show that gum disease causes heart disease, but that's because studies that could prove that have not been done.
"We have to be careful," Kornman says. "We don't want to say to the public, [gum disease] doesn't cause heart disease. The fact is that we don't know."
Still, Lockhart says people deserve to understand that the benefits of treating gum disease may be more limited than they had believed.
"We have to tell patients what we know and not what we think," he says.