Dr. Daniel Meyer, the American Dental Association's (ADA) senior vice president of science and professional affairs, agreed that it is too early to make that assumption, but stressed, "Regular dental visits are important to diagnose and treat dental disease. Some conditions in the mouth may indicate disease elsewhere in the body, so by maintaining a schedule of regular dental visits, the dentist can certainly refer patients to physicians or other health care providers for evaluation for a potential systemic disease."
Clearly, science has yet to establish a direct cause and effect between dental hygiene and health, but researchers are continuing the quest.
In fact, a second study, also presented at this week's AHA conference, suggested that the number of teeth one has is associated with risk of heart disease, stroke and heart failure.
Most people have 32 teeth, wisdom teeth included. The study, conducted by dentist and researcher Anders Holmund at the Centre for Research and Development of the County Council of Gävleborg, Sweden, found that people with only 21 teeth had a 69 percent increased risk of heart attack, and those with the fewest teeth had a 2.5 times increased risk of congestive heart failure.
The researchers also looked at the gum disease, gingivitis, and found that people with gum bleeding had a 2.1 times increased risk of stroke, while those with gum infections had more than a 50 percent increased risk of heart attack.
"These studies appear to be done well, with large patient populations and long follow-up time," said Gerber of both studies, "but more research needs to be done before someone can definitively say there is a link between dental visits and heart health."
He encouraged people to continue following the American Dental Association (ADA) guidelines, which recommend visiting the dentist at least once every six months for a professional exam and cleaning.