A variety of past studies have shown that there is some connection between oral health and heart health. Gum disease is correlated with an increased risk of developing heart disease. Tooth loss follows a similar trend. There is also a connection between bacterial infections in the bloodstream as a result of poor dental health affecting heart valves.
Despite these trends, it is unknown whether poor oral health causes heart problems directly, or whether the two are correlated for separate reasons. A meta-analysis study published in BMC Cardiovascular Disorders in 2017 concluded that periodontal disease is associated with an increased risk of future heart attacks, but that a causative relationship between the two is not clear.
One hypothesis about a causative relationship is that the pathogens that cause periodontal disease could also contribute to occurrence of myocardial infarction (heart attack). Others have hypothesized that the relationship is purely correlational, and that those who have access to periodontal care are also more likely to exercise and to eat diets that contribute to heart health.
A new study from researchers at the University of Michigan suggests that those who receive periodontal care also have better outcomes after a heart attack. Using a database, they studied 2,370 patients in the year before and after they were hospitalized for a heart attack.
In the study cohort, 47% of study participants received regular oral health care, 7% had more intensive periodontal care including root canals, and 10% received controlled periodontal maintenance. 36% of participants did not receive periodontal care in the year before or after a heart attack.
The researchers found that those in the controlled periodontal maintenance cohort had better outcomes in the 30 days following a hospitalization for a heart attack.
Study co-author Romesh Nalliah noted that "dentistry is often practiced in isolation from overall health care. Our results add weight to the evidence that medical and dental health are closely interrelated. More and more studies like ours are showing that it is a mistake to practice medicine without the thoughtful consideration of the patient’s oral health."