Research: What it says and what it means
The studies relating heart disease and gum disease are varied. Here are the conclusions found by three separate studies:
- The rate of heart disease increases with the number of teeth patients were missing.
- Intensive treatment of periodontal disease may reverse atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
- People exposed to certain bacteria associated with gum disease also have increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
In addition, many of these studies are retrospective studies. This means that researchers reviewed the data from other large, general health studies and then analyzed the rates of oral health and heart disease looking for connections. Identifying cause and effect in these cases can be a "chicken and egg" situation. Does gum disease give you heart disease? Or, does gum disease lead to less heart-healthy diet choices? For instance, loose teeth could lead you to avoid healthy, hard-to-chew food like fruits and vegetables and instead favor soft, high-fat, high-cholesterol foods like cakes and cheeses.
So, which causes clogged arteries: The bad teeth or the behaviors they may cause? There may be no absolute answers. The lesson to take from here is that one body system easily affects the others.