In recent years many studies have shown that people who have gum (periodontal) disease are at increased risk for heart disease. This has led some researchers to suggest that gum disease can cause heart disease—and that treatment of gum disease and good oral hygiene in general can help protect the heart.
In 2012 the American Heart Association reviewed the research on this and concluded that so far there was no conclusive evidence that gum disease contributes directly to heart disease. However, a well-designed study recently in the Journal of the American Heart Association lends weight to the causal connection.
Researchers from Columbia University and other institutions tracked the gum health of 420 people (average age 68) for three years via clinical exams and analyses of certain bacteria that cause gum disease. They correlated this with changes in atherosclerosis (the narrowing of arteries that increases the risk of heart attack and stroke) in the carotid artery, as seen via ultrasound. They found that in patients whose periodontal health improved, carotid narrowing slowed significantly. Factors such as smoking, diabetes, age, blood pressure and blood cholesterol were controlled for.
This is the “most direct evidence yet” that treating periodontal disease could also play a role in preventing or slowing atherosclerosis, the researchers concluded.