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Does gum disease really lead to heart disease?

Some ads for antibacterial toothpaste strongly imply that their product will help prevent heart disease. But is this claim really true?

According to the Berkeley Wellness Letter, just because there is a link between gum disease and cardiovascular disease, that doesn’t necessarily mean that gum disease CAUSES heart disease.

The theory goes like this: gum inflammation is thought to trigger inflammation elsewhere in the body, and chronic inflammation throughout the body is thought to contribute to plaque in the arteries, which in turn leads to cardiovascular disease. A simpler explanation might be that people who take care of their gums also tend to take care of their heart.

Several studies have been done suggesting a correlation between gum disease and heart disease, but causality has not been established. For example, a 2007 English study found that intensive treatment of severe gum disease can improve blood vessel function and reduce inflammation in the body. Similarly, a 2008 Finnish study found that people with gum disease who took cholesterol-lowering drugs had less severe gum disease than those not taking them.
Studies are underway to see if treating gum disease will help with heart disease, and vice versa. But of course, regardless of whether or not gum disease leads directly to heart disease, there are many good reasons to take care of your teeth, your gums, and your heart.

Source: “Will Tooth Brushing Protect Your Heart?” Berkeley Wellness Alerts. March 10, 2010.