Does a Great Smile Reveal a Healthy Heart?

Heart disease risk may be greater for those who have severe gum disease

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Your mouth may give clues to your overall health. Inflammation linked with gum disease, for example, may play a role in heart disease. Treating gum disease, however, may not lower heart risks.

While some research has found that oral bacteria and the inflammation from periodontitis (gum disease) may contribute to cardiovascular disease, the American Heart Association reported that there’s no proof that preventing periodontitis can prevent heart disease or that treating gum disease can decrease the chances of getting atherosclerosis—a buildup of artery-clogging plaque that can lead to heart attack or stroke.

"Maintain good oral health and overall health may benefit, too."

Peter Lockhart, DDS, at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, and colleagues issued a scientific statement indicating that gum disease treatment may reduce inflammation and dysfunction of endothelial cells (cells that line the blood vessels), but there is no evidence that gum disease therapy can stave off heart disease or change its outcomes.

In a recent review, the American Heart Association said that there is no evidence that gum disease can actually cause heart disease.

“The mouth can be a good warning signpost,” said Ann Bolger, MD, an American Heart Association volunteer and a William Watt Kerr professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, San Francisco in a statement. “People with periodontitis often have risk factors that not only put their mouth at risk, but their heart and blood vessels, too. But whether one causes the other has not actually been shown. We don’t want people who have a heart attack and get a stent to feel that they need aggressive gum disease surgery, which could be risky for them.”

A link between oral health and cardiovascular disease has been suggested for more than a century, according to Lockart and his fellow investigators.

In an interview with dailyRx News, Dana Fort, DDS, who runs private dental practices in Illinois, said that although there is no proven cause and effect relationship between periodontitis and heart disease, we cannot say the two are not related.

“It is plausible that an infection in the gums may circulate through the bloodstream and effect organs such as the heart, especially since we have seen evidence of the presence of the same inflammatory factors in gum disease and heart disease,” Dr. Fort told dailyRx News.

The warning signs of gum disease include red, tender and swollen gums which bleed upon tooth brushing or flossing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, half of all American adults have some form of gum disease, and it is mostly due to poor oral hygiene (such as not flossing).

“Readers should be advised to visit their dentist should they sees signs of gum disease, as well as floss twice per day,” said Dr. Fort.

To lower heart disease risk, Dr. Bolger advises that individuals try the proven methods—quitting smoking, managing weight, controlling blood pressure and staying active.

The American Heart Association updated its statement on “Dental Health and Heart Health” on December 20. “Periodontal Disease and Atherosclerotic Vascular Disease: Does the Evidence Support an Independent Association?” was published in Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association.

Review Date: 
December 30, 2013
Last Updated:
December 31, 2013