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Can an infected tooth affect your heart?

  • 2 min read

Can an infected tooth affect your heart?

"You floss twice a day, right?" we’re told this every time we go to the dentist. 

The dentist reviews the benefits of flossing on long-term tooth and gum health and how it carries over to overall health and well-being. The discussion around oral health and heart disease is not new.   

In 2008, Humphrey et al. narrowed down 7 studies of good or fair quality from 68 full papers reviewed to see whether or not having periodontal disease increased the risk for cardiovascular disease. A further goal of the study was to attempt to see whether periodontal disease was an independent risk factor compared to other risk factors for heart disease. 

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Through various methods of analysis across multiple study types the conclusion was, “[that various measures of periodontal disease confer approximately a 24–35% increase in the risk of CHD].” CHD stands for coronary heart disease.  

So does this mean if I have gum disease I have a substantially increased risk of having a heart attack?  I wouldn’t go as far as to make that leap. One of the inclusion criteria in the study was tooth loss. Generally speaking the older you are the higher the likelihood you will have lost a tooth in your lifetime. Likewise, as you get older your risk of CHD increases by the simple fact that you are aging. 

Secondly, this study relied on each of the 7 individual study’s definitions of CHD. This would lead to a lack of consistency across the board. Were these studies even talking about the same thing to begin with? How did each study specifically define CHD? What were the criteria for inclusion?

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After reading the paper in its entirety there are certainly some significant claims in it, especially in the author's conclusions.  

While this is only one study, with significant limitations, I don’t think we can dismiss the importance of oral health and its effects outside of the mouth. Research should continue to evaluate oral health and its connection to the heart and the rest of the body. 

It will be interesting to see in the future what evidence emerges regarding these two seemingly unrelated systems. For me, the simple interest of individuals wanting to develop research on these topics is motivation enough to step up my flossing game.

Did you floss twice today?

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Source: Humphrey et al. (2008) Periodontal disease and coronary heart disease incidence: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Gen Intern Med, 23, 12, 2079-86. doi: 10.1007/s11606-008-0787-6