Heart disease and oral health
The idea that gum disease and heart disease are related was originally proposed more than a century ago, by German and French scientists. With little research to back up their theory, it was largely ignored until 1989. In that year, two studies conducted by Scandinavian researchers discovered a higher rate of oral health problems, such as periodontitis and decay, in patients who had suffered a heart attack or stroke, than in healthy patients.
You probably did not hear about this research until much more recently. Early finding were subject to scrutiny, for two reasons. First, periodontal and heart diseases share several common risk factors, increasing the odds of patients having both conditions. Second, the possibility was raised that heart disease my adversely affect oral health, rather than the reverse. Additionally, early studies were geographically localized, so the results may not have been representative of the global general population.
In the years since those groundbreaking Scandinavian reports, scientists around the world have conducted numerous studies, involving thousands and thousands of patients. Researchers have taken steps address the issues raised about previous reports. Groups of various ages and ethnicities, from locations around the world, have been included. Some studies have evaluated many years of data for each participant, to determine whether coronary or oral health began to decline first.
To some extent, the results of these studies have been inconclusive or contradictory. While many scientists have confirmed the oral-heart link, none have definitively proven the nature of that link. That means we do not know how and why your oral health affects your heart. A few researchers have even challenged the existence of a link. For example, one group of researchers determined that subjects with periodontal disease did not have a significantly higher instance of coronary disease. However, they noted a strong link between periodontal disease and stroke was discovered. A separate study, utilizing the very same data, concluded that poor oral health did not increase the risk of stroke.
The connection between oral health and systemic health, including coronary, is one of the most active areas of medical research today. Despite more than 20 years of intense research, there are still many questions to be answered. What do we know for certain?
According to the ADA (American Dental Association), an association between cardiovascular disease and periodontal disease has firmly established, although the nature has yet to be determined. They note that periodontal disease treatment should not be considered a preventive or curative therapy for heart disease. However, they also stress the importance of recognizing that you cannot be healthy if you have poor oral health.