POSTED: Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 8:07pm
UPDATED: Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 8:14pm
(CNN) -- Despite what doctors have been telling patients for the past few years, having gum disease does not make us more likely to have a heart attack or stroke, according to the American Heart Association. Treating gum disease does not appear to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease either.
Cardiologists, dentists, and infectious disease specialists reviewed more than 500 studies addressing the connection between the two diseases. The results were published Wednesday in a statement by the AHA.
The connection was made years ago when experts noticed that people with gum disease tended to have more heart attacks or strokes than people in better dental health. The thinking was that the bacteria causing the infection in the gums got into the blood stream and traveled to the fatty plaques in blood vessels where they attached and helped form blood clots which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
But the experts who reviewed the numerous studies say that though people with heart disease can certainly have periodontal disease, that gum disease does not necessarily cause heart disease.
People with both conditions share many of the same risk factors or engage in the same behaviors and this may be why it was thought that there was a connection. Both conditions are tied to cigarette smoking, being overweight or obese, being diabetic and having high blood pressure.
There's a lot of confusion out there," said Peter Lockhart, D.D.S., co-chair of the statement writing group and professor and chair of oral medicine at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. "The message sent out by some in health care professions that heart attack and stroke are directly linked to gum disease, can distort the facts, alarm patients and perhaps shift the focus on prevention away from well known risk factors for these diseases."
The American Dental Association agrees with the conclusions of the AHA and says in a statement: "Just because two conditions are associated with each other does not mean that one causes the other."
While inflammation from gum disease can still damage blood vessels it's not actually causing heart attacks or strokes, researchers conclude.
To reduce your risk for gum disease, heart attack, and stroke the advice doctors have been giving for years still holds. Brush your teeth twice a day, floss daily, eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly.