Does Gum Disease Cause Heart Disease? - Dr. Colin Richman

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Does Gum Disease Cause Heart Disease?

August 14, 2012

In April of 2012, the American Heart Association published a statement saying that periodontal disease does not cause heart disease. It went on to say that there is no evidence that treating periodontal disease (PD) will decrease the likelihood of having atherosclerotic vascular disease (ASVD), commonly known as arteriosclerosis.

If you read the actual statement in its entirety, it quite accurately describes the known research results. Unfortunately, what the headlines read was “AHA says gum disease does NOT cause heart disease”. Many news reports went on to say, essentially that your dentist has been lying to you. Wow.

A month later, the AHA released a 2nd statement clarifying that ASVD and PD share common risk factors including smoking, diabetes, and age, but “studies have found an association between the two diseases that cannot be explained by the common risk factors”. There IS a clear link between the 2 diseases independent of known commonalities.

Both PD and ASVD are complex diseases, but we do know that inflammation is integral to both conditions. When plaque bacteria collect on the teeth and under the gums, the body mounts and immune response. Chemical mediators of inflammation are produced which enter the bloodstream and can affect other parts of the body.

C-reactive protein (CRP) is one such mediator that is elevated in patients with PD. When blood levels of CRP are too high, there is an increased risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke. This is why CRP (as well as cholesterol) is routinely measured via blood tests. Treating PD, eliminating the inflammation (expressed as bleeding gums) can lower the CRP levels. So while we cannot say that PD CAUSES heart disease, there is a clear link. While we cannot say that treating PD will PREVENT heart disease, it is reasonable to expect that it will help.

My advice: Gum inflammation is not good for you. Brush and floss twice daily, use an additional aid to clean between your teeth (toothpicks or interdental brushes), and rinse with Listerine – a good antiseptic mouthwash. Make sure your dentist is measuring under the gums with a millimeter probe. If the gums are healthy, they will not bleed and the probe will not go more that 3mm below the gum line.

We would like to work more closely with cardiologists. People with heart disease who have not had regular dental visits should be screened for gum disease. People with active gum disease and additional risk factors should be screened for heart disease.

We at Roswell Periodontics specialize in diagnosing and treating gum disease, and appreciate the role it plays in achieving overall good health.

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