Unless you floss while running on a treadmill, taking care of your teeth and gums won’t have any effect on the health of your heart, according to a new study by a group of dentists and cardiologists. The supposed link between gum disease and cardiovascular disease is over 100 years old. Medical experts promoted gum health as way to prevent damage to the cardiovascular system caused by either inflammation of the infected gums, or bacteria from the mouth passing into the bloodstream. In the current study, published in the American Heart Association’s Circulation, researchers reviewed dozens of previous studies in search of the connection between the mouth and heart. What they found turns the long-standing advice about flossing on its head.
While gum disease and cardiovascular disease often occur together, there’s no proof that one causes the other. The two conditions, however, do share common risk factors, such as cigarette smoking, age, diabetes, and obesity. And bacteria do pass from the mouth into the bloodstream in people with gum disease, although the researchers say it’s not clear “whether they’re part of the pathologic process or whether they’re just there.”
Most importantly, there is no evidence that treating or preventing gum disease has any effect on the health of the heart. Instead of focusing just on brushing and flossing, doctors and patients should turn their attention to the risk factors common to both gum and heart disease. This would have a greater impact on overall health. Your teeth still deserve flossing and regular dental checkups, though, but now for their own sake.