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Gum disease doesn't cause heart disease

April 19, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
For the past 20 years, hundreds of studies have suggested inflammation in the gums can lead to inflammation in the arteries and hardening. Now, the scientific community is making an about face.

After scrutinizing hundreds of previous studies, researchers found the heart-and-gum disease connection broke down. Many were flawed, not designed well and couldn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

"They can happen together, but one may not be causing the other," said cardiologist Dr. David Sato of Providence St. Joseph Medical Center.

Besides correcting the scientific record, the American Heart Association hopes publicizing the finding will help people because if gum disease doesn't cause heart disease and stroke, they can focus on what does.

But the finding doesn't mean you should stop prioritizing your dental care, Sato says, because bacterial infections in the mouth can enter the blood stream more easily.

"Certainly, you can still develop heart problems with infected gums or infected teeth. The bacteria that reside in those infected areas of the mouth can get into the blood stream and you can infect the heart valve," Sato said.

It's not the first time Americans have received misinformation. Doctors once believed taking anti-inflammatory medications and antioxidants prevented heart disease, but continuing studies can't provide solid evidence.