How is Gum Disease Connected To Heart Disease? A Study By The Harvard Medical School

A recent study by the Harvard Medical School has shown that people with poor oral health are exposed to high risk of cardiovascular problems such as stroke or heart attack than people with none. Here are some of the theories proposed:


The bacteria that causes gum infection, periodontis and gingivitis spread in the blood vessels elsewhere in the body causing inflammation and damage of blood vessels, tiny blood clots, eventually leading to heart attack and stroke. This implies that the remains of oral bacteria within atherosclerotic blood vessels that are found far away from the mouth have to be detected. But then, antibiotic treatment, in this case, has been proved ineffective at reducing the risks of cardiovascular diseases.

It’s not the bacteria, but the immune response of the body– inflammation - that triggers a slew of vascular damage throughout the body, including the brain and the heart.

Though there is little or no direct connection between cardiovascular disease and gum diseases, there’s a third link (for instance, smoking) considered a risk factor for the aforementioned conditions. Other possible ‘confounders’ may be lack of exercise, and little access to healthcare – perhaps people who are not health-insured or those who care less about their overall health are more affected by oral and cardio-vascular diseases.   

This being the biggest research so far carried out in this area, the study involved close to million people experiencing 65,000 cardiovascular events (including heart attack) to find that:

When age is factored in, there was a moderate link between coronary heart disease and tooth loss (caused to due to poor oral health conditions).

When smoking status was factored in, the link between cardiovascular disease and tooth loss is almost negligible.

This study points out that the observed link between poor oral health doesn’t directly lead to cardiovascular diseases. But if that’s perceived true, how did we substantiate other studies that found a link even after factoring in smoking and other cardiovascular risk factors?

It’s something rare in medical research that a single study could answer all the questions that have been around for decades; therefore, it calls for additional studies to establish more than plausible relationships.

The link between poor oral health and overall health isn’t restricted to cardiovascular disease (particularly, if due to infection known as porphyromonas gingivalis) and rheumatoid arthritis. Additionally, a study in 2016 established a link between the risk of pancreatic cancer and the above said bacterium, an ‘association’ is somewhat different from causation; we require extra study to determine the importance of these findings.


Irrespective of whether the link is direct, indirect or a matter of coincidence, healthy oral habits including brushing and flossing bay (of course minus smoking, and with periodic dental care) can keep cardio-vascular diseases at bay.

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